USA: As President Bush visits China, he should reflect on an execution looming at home

Alexander Williams is scheduled for lethal injection on Monday in Georgia for a crime committed when he was 17 years old. International law prohibits the execution of child offenders - people who were under 18 at the time of the crime. Although China accounts for a majority of the world's executions each year, it abolished the death penalty for child offenders in March 1997 in line with its treaty obligations.

'Since that date, the USA has continued to ignore its international obligations on this fundamental human rights issue', Amnesty International said, noting that the USA has executed nine child offenders, 60 per cent of the known world total, in the past five years.

Before he left for China, President Bush told his country that he would urge the Chinese authorities to 'embrace the universal demands of human dignity...and the rights and value of every life'.

'In the coming days President Bush should turn that sentiment towards preventing an execution in the USA which would flout commonly held standards of justice and decency', Amnesty International said. The organisation wrote to President Bush yesterday calling on him to intervene in the case of Alexander Williams.

'The affront to international standards does not stop at the question of Alexander Williams's age', the organisation continued. 'He was denied his right to adequate trial representation, and he suffers from serious mental illness for which he has been forcibly medicated on death row.'

Alexander Williams was scheduled to be executed yesterday. He was granted a stay until 25 February by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles in order that they could have more time to consider the case. Such a reprieve is a rare event in Georgia, which has executed five prisoners in the past four months.

'The Board members are evidently feeling the pressure to do the right thing', Amnesty International said. 'An appeal for clemency from the President of their country would carry great weight and could be just what is needed to give them the courage to commute this death sentence'.

Background information

Alexander Williams was represented at trial by a lawyer who failed to investigate the substantial mitigating evidence available. In 2000, five of the surviving eight trial jurors signed affidavits saying that if they had been presented with evidence of Alexander Williams`s mental illness and history of childhood abuse they would not have voted for the death penalty.

Williams's mental illness, including paranoid schizophrenia, has worsened during his 15 years on death row. An appeal pending before the US Supreme Court argues that Alexander Williams has been rendered 'synthetically sane' by forcible medication. The execution of the insane is unconstitutional in the USA.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, yesterday appealed for Alexander Williams's death sentence to be commuted. Her urgent appeal follows those of two UN Special Rapporteurs, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the European Union and the Council of Europe. There have been many calls for clemency from inside the USA also, including from the Children's rights's Defense Fund, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and the American Bar Association.

Amnesty International has documented 15 executions of child offenders in the world since March 1997: nine in the USA, one in the Democratic Republic of Congo, three in Iran and two in Pakistan. President Musharraf of Pakistan told Amnesty International in December that he would commute the death sentences of all child offenders on death row in his country.

Read Amnesty International's letter to President Bush

Read the Report: 'USA: Crying out for clemency: The case of Alexander Williams, mentally ill child offender facing execution'

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