Capital Punishment: Dying Out but Still Killing #deathpenalty


death1

Posted: 28/06/2013 , huffingtonpost
Maryland Death Penalty

It’s a loose comparison, but sometimes I think that people who get executed these days are like those killed right at the end of a war. Another day, another month … and they might survived.

I say this because when you look at the figures for capital punishment around the world, you can see there’s a strong trend toward abolition. It’s happening year by year. Fifty years ago only nine countries in the world had abolished the death penalty; by 1977 it was 16; now 140 countries have abolished judicial killing in law or stopped it in practice.

Even in “pro-death penalty” countries, the number of sentences and executions is generally falling or the scope for imposing executions being reduced. For example, in China the number of crimes which might lead to a lethal injection or death by firing squad has beenreduced from a reported 68 to 55 (still a staggeringly high number). Meanwhile, in the USA – another major user of capital punishment – individual states are peeling away from the majority on the issue, with six states scrapping the death penalty in the past six years – New Jersey and New York state (2007), New Mexico (2009), Illinois (2010), Connecticut (2012) and Maryland just last month.

Anyway, though in the last year or so there have been what Amnesty says is an “alarming” spike in executions in Iraq and a resumptions after considerable gaps in the use of the death penalty in Japan, Gambia, Pakistan and India, the underlying global trend is still clear and apparently fixed: state-sanctioned judicial killing is slowly dying out.

So to me there’s a particular tragedy to the late nature of executions in this context. Last night’s execution of Kimberly McCarthy in Texas was regrettable for many reasons (especially the apparent role of racial prejudice in her trial), but in five – ten, 20? – years’ time there’s a distinct possibility that we won’t have people in Texas being strapped down to a lethal injection gurney and killed by technicians in a disgraceful pseudo-medical “procedure”.

I know of course that of all US states Texas is a “hard case”, one that may not go the way of national and international abolition in the immediate future. It’s just reached the miserable milestone of 500 executions in 31 years, nearly five times higher than any other US state. The Lone Star State indeed. See Amnesty USA’s Brian Evans on Texas’ fatal addiction to the death penalty. However, with support for capital punishment in the USA falling, and controversy over lethal injection drugs and unfair trials growing, I think abolition even in Texas will come ….

But still, the machinery of death clanks on. Just this week, in addition to McCarthy’s execution we’ve had four men hanged in Nigeria (and another facing death by firing squad imminently) and alarming reports that 117 people in Vietnam may face execution soon because of a recent law change (we’re talking – in some cases – about death by lethal injection, using specially-produced drugs to execute prisoners for non-violent drugs offences). There’s an urgent text campaign on Vietnam being run by Amnesty – see here.

So no, if you take an abolitionist view on the death penalty, there’s no cause for complacency. According to Wikipedia, the last person to die (from the British Empire side at least) during World War One was a 25-year-old Canadian man called George Lawrence Price. He was shot by a German sniper in the Belgian town of Ville-sur-Haine at 10.58 on the morning of 11 November 1918. The Armistice came into force at 11am. A needless death then, just like everyone killed by the state in the cold-blooded and thoroughly repugnant business of administering capital punishment.

 ,Press Officer at Amnesty International UK

 

Vietnam: Escalating Persecution of Bloggers


Recent Arrests, Physical Attacks Require Strong Diplomatic Response
JUNE 19, 2013, HRW
Vietnam’s strategy of repressing critics big and small will only lead the country deeper into crisis. The latest arrests and assaults on bloggers show how afraid the government is of open discussion on democracy and human rights.
Brad Adams, Asia director

(New York, June 20, 2013) – The Vietnamesegovernment should unconditionally release recently arrested bloggers and end physical attacks on critics, Human Rights Watch said today. Vietnam’s donors and trading partners should publicly call on the government to end the use of the criminal law against peaceful activists.

Human Rights Watch called for the immediate and unconditional release of recently arrested bloggers Truong Duy Nhat and Pham Viet Dao, as well as internet activist Dinh Nhat Uy, and an investigation into allegations that police assaulted internet activists Nguyen Chi Duc, Nguyen Hoang Vi, and Pham Le Vuong Cac, whose security the authorities should protect.

“Vietnam’s strategy of repressing critics big and small will only lead the country deeper into crisis,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The latest arrests and assaults on bloggers show how afraid the government is of open discussion on democracy and human rights.”

Many of the arrests have come under Vietnam Penal Code article 258, one of several vague and elastic legal provisions routinely used to prosecute people for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Recent cases of arrest and assault include the following:

  • On May 26, 2013, Ministry of Public Security officers arrested blogger Truong Duy Nhat for “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens,” according to the Vietnamese newspaper Thanh Nien. The arrest at his home in Da Nang of the 49-year-old followed his posting on his popular “A Different Perspective” blog of a call for the resignation of Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and ruling Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, blaming them for leading Vietnam into worsening political and economic difficulties.
  • On June 7, 2013, five men believed to be police officers assaulted 26-year-old blogger Nguyen Hoang Vi (also known as An Do Nguyen) and legal activist Pham Le Vuong Cac on a Ho Chi Minh City street. According to Vietnamese bloggers, the attackers had been monitoring Nguyen Hoang Vi and her family for several days and beat her into unconsciousness, leaving wounds requiring hospital treatment. Nguyen Hoang Vi is a prominent Internet personality who was also attacked on May 5-6, 2013, after playing a leading role in an attempted “human rights picnic” in Ho Chi Minh City.
  • On June 13, police arrested 61-year-old blogger Pham Viet Dao at his Hanoi home, also for “abusing democratic freedoms,” according to an announcement by the Ministry of Public Security, thus signalling his likely prosecution under article 258. His website, like that of Truong Duy Nhat, had been critical of a number of Vietnamese political leaders.
  • On June 15, Dinh Nhat Uy was arrested pursuant to article 258. His younger brother,Dinh Nguyen Kha, had been sentenced to eight years in prison on May 16, 2013, for distributing leaflets critical of state foreign and domestic policies. Dinh Nhat Uy, 30, was arrested in Long An province after launching an Internet campaign calling for his brother’s release and posting pictures and notes on his Facebook account. He was accused of “distorting the truth and badly influencing the prestige of state organizations,” as the official news Agency VNA put it.

Article 258 is used to prosecute those whom the government maintains “abuse the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of belief, religion, assembly, association and other democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens,” and provides for up to seven years’ imprisonment for those who commit this supposed offense “in serious circumstances.” Vietnam’s politically controlled courts routinely apply such provisions to imprison people for peaceful expression.

The government is increasingly cracking down on criticism of corruption and authoritarianism, Human Rights Watch said. Those recently targeted represent a spectrum of public opinion, as Truong Duy Nhat, Pham Viet Dao, and Nguyen Chi Duc formerly worked for the ruling authorities, Truong Duy Nhat worked in the official media, Pham Viet Dao was a government official, and Nguyen Chi Duc was a member of the Communist Party. Dinh Nhat Uy, Nguyen Hoang Vi, and Pham Le Vuong Cac reflect dissent among those in the younger generation without such ties.

“Donors and trading partners need to stand with those in Vietnam struggling for their rights and make it clear that no one should be arrested or assaulted for their opinions,” Adams said. “They should insist that the only future for countries trying to develop and modernize is a free and open society in which the authorities accept that criticism is a normal part of the political process.”

#India – Anti-nuke activists urge PM not to sign Nuclear Agreement with Japan


By Newzfirst Bureau5/27/13

New Delhi – In the wake of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Japan, hundreds of people from across the globe have appealed him not to sign the IndiaJapan Nuclear Agreement.

Singh will be visiting Tokyo on Monday, 27th May in a trip that was scrapped last year after a general election was called in Japan.

With an aim to expand the partnership by discussing a wide range of issues including politics and the economy, it is expected to include the signing of infrastructure projects deals worth $15 billion, say reports.

“We stand in complete opposition to the India-Japan nuclear cooperation agreement that is currently under intense negotiation. The governments of both countries must refrain from promoting nuclear commerce, jeopardizing the health and safety of their people and environments.” reads the petition addressed to the both Indian and Japanese authorities.

Referring the Fukushima accident and post-accident impacts, the petition further reads thatIndia must behave responsibly and should rethink its use of nuclear energy.

Nuclear energy currently provides less than 3% of its total electricity and can be easily replaced, freeing the country to embrace renewable and sustainable alternatives, it adds.

Petitioners have also appealed the Government of Japan to desist the Nuclear Export Policy, through which it exports nuclear technology to other countries.

“The current policy option of exporting nuclear energy to countries like India, Vietnam, Jordan etc… are totally unjust while Japan is reeling under the huge financial losses posed by the Fukushima accident and its citizens are observing massive protests to demand a nuclear-free future and the victims of the triple meltdowns remain uncompensated.” the petition says.

(IANS)

 

Fast fashion, fair wages: Vietnam’s lesson to Bangladesh


AFP, May 2, 2013 

Relations hit a sour note: Fashion brand Mango placed orders for clothing items this year at one of the factories housed in the now collapsed building in Bangladesh.

Relations hit a sour note: Fashion brand Mango placed orders for clothing items this year at one of the factories housed in the now collapsed building in Bangladesh. Photo: AFP

 

From factory fires to slave labour, the growth of mass manufacturing in South East Asia has not been problem-free, but having shed its “sweatshop” reputation, the region could have lessons for Bangladesh.

The building collapse near Dhaka last week that left 550 dead and missing has unleashed global consternation over conditions in the factories that produce fast fashion — cheap, catwalk-inspired clothes — for top global brands.

Amid talk of consumer boycotts, Bangladesh needs to reform its industry before fashionistas wonder “if they should be wearing blood-stained dresses”, Kalpona Akter of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity told AFP.

Communist Vietnam — which produces clothes for disposable fashion industry giants Zara, Mango and H&M — shows it is possible to have “extremely strong” labour laws, fair wages and a healthy garment industry, experts say.

“It is not a race to the bottom here,” Tara Rangarajan, program manager of the International Labour Organisation‘s Better Work project in Vietnam, told AFP.

“Sweatshops are part of a short term, immediate payback, low cost strategy. (Vietnam wants to) be competitive in the long term on something besides just cheap labour,” so it is trying to enforce and improve its laws, she added.

Buyers are attracted to Vietnam — where wages are some three times higher than Bangladesh — if “they have reputations they are trying to maintain”, she added.

Garment exports, worth $3.1 billion in the first quarter of 2013, were up 18.3 percent year on year. The government’s “number one priority” is boosting technology, Vietnamese legal expert Nguyen Dinh Huan told AFP.

In contrast, Bangladesh has “specialised in low cost production” and embraced the sweatshop model rather than investing in technology and upgrading, said Nayla Ajaltouni coordinator of the Collectif Ethique sur l’etiquette.

“The industry has grown very quickly, (which) is why we’re seeing this concentration of chronic health and safety issues,” she told AFP.

Outrage over the recent building collapse could prove a turning point, she said. Minimum wages were increased in Bangladesh in 2011 “not for philanthropic reasons but because protests were starting to disturb the supply chain”.

“It is a bit cynical but this disaster is also a critical point where brands can be pushed to move forward — by the media, by citizens,” she added.

In Thailand, standards in factories improved significantly after a fire at a toy factory killed 188 people in 1993, although activists say conditions particularly in smaller factories can still be problematic.

In Cambodia, where the garment industry developed in the 1990s, avoiding the “sweatshop” label was a conscious strategy, with the country embracing an ILO Better Factories program — which union leaders say has only been minimally effective.

Several thousands of garment workers marched in the capital Phnom Penh on Wednesday to mark May Day and demand better pay and working conditions.

But Abdus Salam Murshedy, president of the Exporters Association of Bangladesh, said that Bangladesh “already has world class factories… some buyers just avoid placing orders there to maximise their profits”.

The trouble is “consumers are never really presented the real relationship between cheap clothes and labour abuses and health and safety standards, because of marketing, branding,” said Anne Elizabeth Moore, an award-winning author.

“In this set-up, buyers really aren’t motivated to care about labour issues unless they’re going for the altruism dollar, which is a long shot,” Moore, who has written extensively on the global garment industry, told AFP.

But attention on the recent accident in Bangladesh “is pressuring all companies, whether they were in that building or not, to tighten their supply chain — which is good,” said one Hong Kong-based manager with a global fashion brand who did not want to be named as her company policy bars her from talking to the media.

“But ultimately buyers cannot go in and change the system in Bangladesh. (The government) needs to take responsibility,” the manager added, pointing out that unlike Vietnam, Dhaka neither imposes a standard annual minimum wage increase nor allows garment workers to unionise.

Unless standards improve, Dhaka also needs to realise that its cash-cow industry — which accounts for some 80 percent of export earnings — is at risk, she said.

“A lot of buyers are looking into Myanmar, Kenya, Ethiopia. They don’t see Bangladesh as a long term hub anymore… there are too many problems.”

Mango has been recognised for revolutionising the global fashion industry, alongside brands such as Zara and Top Shop, by providing fast, affordable and accessible fashion to the masses. Mango shifts about 30,000 pieces of clothing an hour in stores across 109 countries.

But the national manager of Ethical Clothing Australia, Simon McRae, criticised the concept of ”fast fashion”, saying it put additional strain on garment factories already under pressure in developing countries and increased the chance of more disasters like the one in Bangladesh.

More than 300 garment factory workers were killed in factory fires between 2006 and 2009, and a further 79 workers died in 21 separate accidents in 2010, a report by the Clean Clothes Campaign showed. More than 100 were killed in a factory fire last November.

Michele O’Neil from the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia said Bangladesh was the world’s most dangerous place to work for a clothes maker.

”Western clothing brands have the ultimate responsibility for the conditions their stock is made in,” she said.

”The companies are really looking for the cheapest labour force in the world.”

 

bur-ceb/ao/dwa

The Toxic Effects of Agent Orange Persist 51 Years After the Vietnam War


Tuesday, 07 August 2012 09:42By Jeanne Mirer and Marjorie CohnTruthout | Op-Ed Truthout

Defoliant spray run, part of Operation Ranch Hand, during the Vietnam War by UC-123B Provider aircraft.Defoliant spray run, part of Operation Ranch Hand, during the Vietnam War by UC-123B Provider aircraft. (Photo:USAF)There are images from the US war against Vietnam that have been indelibly imprinted on the minds of Americans who lived through it. One is the naked napalm-burned girl running from her village with flesh hanging off her body. Another is a photo of the piles of bodies from the My Lai massacre, where US troops executed 504 civilians in a small village. Then, there is the photograph of the silent scream of a woman student leaning over the body of her dead friend at Kent State University, whose only crime was protesting the bombing of Cambodia in 1970. Finally, there is the memory of decorated members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War testifying at the Winter Soldier Hearings, often in tears, to atrocities in which they had participated during the war.

These pictures are heartbreaking. They expose the horrors of war. The US war against Vietnam was televised, while images of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have intentionally been hidden from us. But what was not televised was the relentless ten years (1961-1971) of spraying millions of gallons of toxic herbicides over vast areas of South Vietnam. These chemicals exposed almost five million people, mostly civilians, to deadly consequences. The toxic herbicides, most notably Agent Orange, contained dioxin, one of the most dangerous chemicals known to man. It has been recognized by the World Health Organization as a carcinogen (causes cancer) and by the American Academy of Medicine as a teratogen (causes birth defects).

From the beginning of the spraying 51 years ago, and even today, millions of Vietnamese have died from, or been completely incapacitated by, diseases which the US government recognizes are related to Agent Orange for purposes of granting compensation to Vietnam veterans in the United States. The Vietnamese, who were the intended victims of this spraying, experienced the most intense, horrible impact on human health and environmental devastation. Second and third generations of children, born to parents exposed during the war and in areas of heavy spraying hot spots, suffer unspeakable deformities that medical authorities attribute to the dioxin in Agent Orange.

The Vietnamese exposed to the chemical suffer from cancer, liver damage, pulmonary and heart diseases, defects to reproductive capacity and skin and nervous disorders. Their children and grandchildren have severe physical deformities, mental and physical disabilities, diseases and shortened life spans. The forests and jungles in large parts of southern Vietnam were devastated and denuded. Centuries-old habitat was destroyed and will not regenerate with the same diversity for hundreds of years. Animals that inhabited the forests and jungles are threatened with extinction, disrupting the communities that depended on them. The rivers and underground water in some areas have also been contaminated. Erosion and desertification will change the environment, causing dislocation of crop and animal life.

For the past 51 years, the Vietnamese people have been attempting to address this legacy of war by trying to get the United States and the chemical companies to accept responsibility for this ongoing nightmare. An unsuccessful legal action by Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange against the chemical companies in US federal court, begun in 2004, has nonetheless spawned a movement to hold the United States accountable for using such dangerous chemicals on civilian populations. The movement has resulted in pending legislation HR 2634 hot spots, lawsuit to compensate them, as the unintended victims, for their Agent-Orange-related illnesses. But the Vietnamese continue to suffer from these violations with almost no recognition, as do the offspring of Agent-Orange-exposed US veterans and Vietnamese-Americans.

What is the difference between super powers like the United States violating the laws of war with impunity and the reports of killing of Syrian civilians by both sides in the current civil war? Does the United States have any credibility to demand governments and non-state actors end the killings of civilians, when through wars and drones and its refusal to acknowledge responsibility for the use of Agent Orange, the United States has and is engaging in the very conduct it publicly deplores?

In 1945, at the founding conference of the United Nations, the countries of the world determined:

to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind and

to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small and

to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained and

to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.

If we are to avoid sinking once again into the scourge of war, we must reaffirm the principles of the charter and establish conditions under which countries take actions that promote rather than undermine justice and respect for our international legal obligations. The alternative is the law of the jungle, where only might makes right. It is time that right makes might.

August 10 marks 51 years since the beginning of the spraying of Agent Orange in Vietnam. In commemoration, the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign is urging an observation of  51 seconds of silence at 12 noon, to think about the horrors of wars which have occurred. No one wants to see future images of naked children running from napalm; or young soldiers wiping out the population of an entire village; or other atrocities associated with war, poverty and violence around the world. In the United States, you can sign an orange post card to the US Congress asking it to pass HR 2634, the Victims of Agent Orange Relief Act of 2001.

Monsanto’s Involvement With Agent Orange – 40 Years After the Vietnam Conflict



Tuesday, May 29, 2012

By By Investigative Journalist ~ Theodora Filiss
The US celebrated Memorial Day on Monday, May 28. Originally called Decoration Day, it is a day of remembrance for those who have died in their nation’s service.

“If we open a quarrel between the past and the present, we shall find that we have lost the future.” Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965)

What about the men and women who survived? The Vietnam Veterans who share in the pain and suffering caused by the shameful neglect and harassment by the same people whose lives they fought to protect? One of the most disturbing and damaging legacies of the Vietnam war is Agent Orange. Nearly 40 years later, questions remain.
The US military used Agent Orange from 1961 to 1971 to defoliate dense vegetation in the Vietnamese jungles to reduce the chances of an ambush. Seven major chemical companies were contracted under the Defense Production Act to obtain Agent Orange and other herbicides for use by US and allied troops in Vietnam.
Agent Orange was by far the most widely used of the so-called “Rainbow Herbicides” employed in the Herbicidal Warfare program of the Vietnam War. Dow Chemical and Monsanto were the two largest producers of Agent Orange for the US military. According to Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to Agent Orange, resulting in 400,000 deaths and disabilities, and 500,000 children born with birth defects.
Today Monsanto’s website boasts: “Monsanto is a relatively new company. While we share the name and history of a company that was founded in 1901, the Monsanto of today is focused on agriculture and supporting farmers around the world in their mission to produce more while conserving more. We’re an agricultural company.”
In the past two decades, Monsanto’s “agricultural” GMO monopoly has grown so powerful that they control the genetics of nearly 90% of five major commodity crops including corn, soybeans, cotton, canola and sugar beets. Monsanto is now primarily a seed and agricultural products company.
Monsanto is responsible for more than 50 United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund sites – attempts to clean up Monsanto Chemical’s formerly uncontrolled hazardous waste sites.

Monsanto’s legacy includes, not only the production of Agent Orange, but DDT, PCBs, and Dioxin. Now massive aerial spraying of Roundup in Colombia is being used by the US and the Colombian government as a counter-insurgency tactic, contaminating food crops and poisoning villagers.

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