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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

UK Govt fights disclosure of involvement in Pakistan death penalty

A tribunal is tomorrow (Thursday 11 Feb) due to hear arguments on whether the UK Government should be allowed to withhold information which could show it has provided support for the death penalty in Pakistan.

Ministers have so far refused to publish documents assessing the risk that financial support provided to Pakistan’s Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) could lead to the handing down of death sentences to alleged drug offenders.

The ANF, which is known to have received millions of pounds’ worth of UK taxpayers’ money, has openly boasted about securing death sentences for non-violent alleged drug offenders. Despite the UK’s official policy of opposition to the death penalty, it has funded the ANF from the 1990s to the present day, but refuses to say what steps it has taken to prevent that funding from contributing to increased numbers of death sentences.

In December 2014, Pakistan lifted an unofficial moratorium on executions, and the country has made clear that it intends to execute its entire death row population – estimated at up to 8000 people, over a hundred of whom are thought to be alleged drug offenders.

International human rights organisation Reprieve is challenging the British Government in the Information Rights Tribunal (IRT) over its refusal to disclose a range of information relating to the Pakistan deal, including: assessments of the human rights and death penalty risks involved; steps taken to mitigate these risks; and whether ministerial approval was either sought or received for the programme.

Tomorrow’s hearing is expected to be the final one before the Tribunal comes to a decision. Much of the previous hearing in February 2014 took place in secret, at the request of the Government, with neither Reprieve nor its lawyers allowed to be present during the closed sessions. At the centre of the case is the Government’s Overseas Justice and Security Assistance (OSJA) guidance, which was introduced by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in the wake of the ‘Arab Spring’ in order to “ensur[e] that the human rights implications of our security and justice assistance work overseas are fully considered.”

However, since the OSJA was implemented, ministers have consistently refused to disclose information regarding what assessments have been undertaken and who has signed off on them.

Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve said: “The FCO is falling over itself to prevent information about how it ensures its overseas activities align with basic British human rights principles from coming to light. Yet if the measures taken were sufficient, why would there be any need to keep them secret? The British public has a right to know if their taxes are funding death sentences and executions in countries like Pakistan and Iran, where juveniles and exploited drug mules are sent to the gallows on a daily basis. Ministers need to come clean.”

Source: Reprieve, Feb. 10, 2016

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