16 down, 34 to go!

Governor Pat Quinn’s decision to abolish the death penalty across Illinois couldn’t have come a moment too soon. Particularly for the 15 men who were on death row across the US state.

The mid-western state – for which President Obama previously held a Senate seat – is the third in the USA abolish capital punishment (following New Jersey and New Mexico since 2008) and the 16th state to ban the punishment.

The mood appears to be one of general approval across the States with the Washington Post speculating that Maryland will follow hot on the heels of Illinois to become the 17th state to ban the death penalty, while Professor of Law Mark Osler writes in the Huffington Post that Governor Quinn has set the right tone with this move to get rid of this cruel and inhumane punishment. 

Perhaps authorities across the States are recognising that whether strapping a person to a gurney to be injected with a lethal dose, or fixing someone to an electric chair, or using a firing squad, the death penalty is an abhorrent practice and should have no place in 21st century.

This punishment disproportionately affects the poor, the badly represented and racial minorities.  Also there have been several instances when innocent people have been on death row.  The recent Supreme Court decision about the use of DNA in the case of a Texan man on death row has re-ignited that debate.

Would it be overly optimistic to hope that this recent move echoes a change of attitude across America?

Sadly, given the news that Ohio executed 37 year old Johnnie Baston with a new death penalty drug – a drug which is used to put animals to death – I fear my optimism for an end to USA capital punishment may be a little premature.

One hundred and thirty-nine countries around the world are abolitionist in law or practice.  It astonishes me that the US is not one of them. The moment for the USA to call a halt to executions is long overdue.  Troy Davis remains on death row and Amnesty continues to call for his death sentence to be commuted. To find out more or to take action click here.

Perhaps today’s not the day to begin the full-scale celebrations, but it’s a day when we can begin to hope this could be the start of a different thinking in the USA when it comes to this horrendous punishment.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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