HUMAN RIGHTS DAY: FRIDAY 10 DECEMBER - CALL FOR DEATH PENALTY MORATORIUM IN YEAR 2000

The launch of the Moratorium 2000 Project coincides with the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the most important date in the human rights calendar.

On International Human Rights Day the UK will ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, abolishing the death penalty in the UK in all circumstances including during war time. This follows the removal of the death penalty from the statute books in October 1997.

Yet executions continue at an alarming rate in some countries. By the end of this year Saudi Arabia will have executed well over 100 people and the USA will have executed almost 100; the USA is the only country known to have executed juvenile offenders in 1998 and 1999.

Yesterday a team of lawyers presented a petition signed by 293 British parliamentarians to the Florida Supreme Court in an attempt to save a British national from the electric chair. Krishna Maharaj has been on death row for 10 years, despite serious questions about irregularities in his trial and conviction.

In Ohio, fellow Briton Kenny Richie has spent the last 13 years on death row. Amnesty International has voiced serious concerns about the nature of Kennyís conviction. In the USA, many death row inmates are finally executed after legal procedures that are unfair or questionable.

For Krishna and Kenny, there is at least some hope. But for four other US death row inmates, hope runs out on the eve of Human Rights Day. Bobby Lynn Ross, Andre Graham, James Beathard and D.H. Fleenor are all due to be executed today.

Background

The Moratorium 2000 Project highlights a gathering trend toward the permanent abolition of the death penalty. In 1899, on the eve of the 20th century, only three countries had permanently abolished the death penalty for all crimes; by 1948 the number had risen to eight, by 1978 to 19 and by the end of 1998, 67 countries had abolished the death penalty for all offences.

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