Jeremy Browne – working for abolition of the death penalty abroad


By  | 17th August 2012 – 12:22 pm


Next month, it will be 48 years since the last execution on British soil. Internationally, more countries than ever have been electing to also abandon the death penalty. Amnesty International’s latest report on death sentences and executions shows that the number of countries retaining capital punishment has decreased by one third over the last decade. More countries than ever are also instituting moratoriums on the practice. However, Amnesty reports that 149 more people were known to be executed in 2011 than in 2010. In the Middle East in particular, 2011 saw a steep rise in the number of recorded executions. The Chinese government have also resisted publishing their death penalty statistics, although the number put to death annually has been estimated to be in the thousands.

The position of the UK government – and the Liberal Democrats – on capital punishment is clear. We oppose the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle. We believe it undermines human dignity, there is no conclusive evidence of its deterrent value, and any miscarriage of justice leading to its imposition is irreversible and irreparable. Last year on World Day against the Death Penalty, I wrote an article here on Liberal Democrat Voice. Then, as now, I am proud to be standing up for our values at home and overseas with our international partners. However, our work is far from over.

As a Minister in the Foreign Office, I often travel to countries which still use the death penalty as part of their sentencing regime. I regularly raise the issue with my counterparts and have made several interventions on specific cases. Although the number of countries using the death penalty has decreased many still have Capital Punishment in their penal code. In South Korea, which has had a moratorium in place for fifteen years, I advocated its abolition in a speech I gave at Korea University. In India, I raised my concerns over the possibility of their seven year moratorium being breached regarding a specific case. While I was in Japan, I met with the Japanese Parliamentary League for Abolition and raised the issue of Japan’s use of the death penalty with the then-Senior Vice Minister of Justice Taki. In Westminster, I regularly host meetings with NGOs, academics and interested parties in a group on the abolition of the death penalty worldwide. The last meeting, held in March, focussed on plans for the FCO’s work on the death penalty in the US, China and Iraq.

Last month, the Government announced the introduction of controls on the export of the anaesthetic Propofol to the United States, when it is in a form suitable for lethal injection. This follows a two-year process this Government began to control the export of Sodium Thiopental to the US. This is a drug that is sometimes part of the ‘cocktail’ used during lethal injections. The decision to apply export controls was taken after concerns were expressed that UK drugs may have been used in executions in some States. These controls were extended to three additional drugs last year, and this prompted the introduction at the end of 2011 of EU-wide measures to control the export of a range of drugs which can be used for the purpose of lethal injection.

This is progress but there is clearly still a long way to go before the death penalty is abolished worldwide. However, I am committed to keeping the pressure up on countries like China and the United States, in the hope that one day they too will be celebrating almost half a century without capital punishment.


Nebraska set to use India-made drug in execution


Narayan Lakshman, The Hindu

Unless he is saved by a clemency petition or last-ditch legal recourse, when Michael Ryan, death row inmate in a Nebraska prison, is strapped into a gurney and injected with lethal chemicals on March 6, 2012 he will die knowing that a drug made in the town of Kashipur, Uttarakhand in India caused his death.

While Ryan had earlier obtained a stay order on his execution from the Nebraska Supreme Court, that decision was reversed at the end of last week when a County District Judge, Daniel Bryan Jr., rejected his appeal. In doing so the court however did not specifically comment on Ryan’s challenge relating to how Nebraska obtained one of three lethal-injection drugs it has on hand.

Ironically the setback for Ryan will also come as a blow to the proprietors of Naari, a Swiss-Indian pharmaceutical company. Naari has argued, for more than six months now, that the 485g sodium thiopental, an unconsciousness-inducing drug, now in the possession of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS), were taken from it under false pretences by a middleman called Chris Harris.

The attempt of Mr. Harris to procure sodium thiopental, proved duplicitous by shipping documents and other paperwork in The Hindu’s possession, come in the wake of a similarly controversial attempt by him obtain the narcotic from a Mumbai-based firm called Kayem Pharmaceuticals.

Yet a U.K.-based anti-death penalty group called Reprieve, which had earlier tracked the NDCS’s efforts to source the drug from a shadowy firm in the United Kingdom, highlighted Mr. Harris’ interactions with Kayem and the intense pressure on the firm led to it stating publicly that it would immediately halt all exports of thiopental to the U.S.

The U.S. prison’s move to seek the drug in the U.K. had also met with a storm of opposition across Europe and led to the ban of all such drug exports to the U.S. from that continent. However, although the import from Kayem was not approved by U.S. regulators Mr. Harris succeeded in procuring over 500 one-gram vials of thiopental — enough to kill 166 men — for the NDCS.

According to sources, U.S. regulators have conveyed to the NDCS that they do not approve of the use of Kayem’s sodium thiopental in executions given that proper importation procedures were not followed. The NDCS along with Georgia, Arizona, Texas and other U.S. States, is said to be facing acute shortages of execution drugs since the 2010 voluntary shut-down of a firm called Hospira, the sole producer of sodium thiopental in the U.S. at the time.

Given the regulatory issues impeding the use of foreign-made sodium thiopental numerous correctional facilities in the U.S. are also considering a switch to pentobarbital, a veterinary euthanasia barbiturate used to put down dogs, or using a single-drug execution procedure.

If Nebraska does not switch to some alternative then fate of Naari’s drugs would appear to be written, despite Naari CEO Prithi Kochhar dashing of an anxious letter to Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican, in which he said he was “shocked and appalled” by the prospect that Naari’s drugs could thus be used in execution procedures.

According to Mr. Kochhar, Naari’s agreement with Mr. Harris was for Mr. Harris to use the vials for registration in Zambia, get the product registered there and then begin selling it there, given that sodium thiopental is used widely as an anaesthetic in the developing world. Unfortunately the most recent decision condemning Ryan to death will lead to Naari’s drugs being used for an entirely more macabre purpose.


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