//DEATH PENALTY: Speaking Globally, Working Locally

DEATH PENALTY: Speaking Globally, Working Locally

Abderrahim El Ouali, Inter Press Service News Agency

CASABLANCA, Jun 23 (IPS) – Local coalitions fighting death penalty laws are more efficient in moving towards a complete abolition than are global movements, human rights campaigners have found.

"Our strategy is to promote a global speech that the death penalty is a violation of human rights," Michel Taube, spokesman for the executive secretariat of the World Coalition Against Death Penalty (WCADP), told IPS at the alliance's annual conference held recently in Casablanca.

How that global message is delivered, however, has to be tailored to fit the norms of each region and country. "Holding big speeches would not be enough. Field actions should be led in countries where the death penalty is carried out," he said.

WCADP's worldwide strategy is "to support local coalitions who efficiently act in countries where the death penalty exists," he said. Such coalitions already strive to abolish death penalty in countries like Morocco, Japan, India and Puerto Rico.

Supporting local movements is especially important because there is no universal strategy that would be successful everywhere. A successful approach in Asia, for instance, may not work in Muslim Arab nations or in the United States.

"Promoting international law is possible in several countries. There are great jurists in the Muslim Arab world who try to introduce respect for international law in their countries," Taube said.

But this seems not to be enough. "There are specific strategies for some regions," Taube said. For example, "there is actually a debate in the Arab world about Islam and the death penalty."

If it is often thought that Islamic law, called Shariah, allows for execution as retribution for crimes like rape, theft or murder. Yet, Taube said, "we hear more and more Muslim theologians say that the death penalty should not be carried out anymore."

On the other hand, methods to fight capital punishment in the United States, which Taube called "the last democracy in the world that still inflicts the death penalty," have to focus on other arguments.

U.S. jurist Speedy Rice told conference participants that a first step in the United States would be trying to impose a moratorium on the death penalty. One way to do that, Rice said, was through the public's growing objection to the use of lethal injection.

Encouraging medical personnel to refuse to take part in executions by lethal injection is a good way to start the fight, said other U.S. participants in the conference.

They said they were heartened by a U.S. Supreme Court decision last week that would allow inmates to appeal their executions by lethal injection on the grounds that it may cause inhumane pain — a violation of their human rights.

In other countries, notably Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, restricting the campaign to merely abolishing the death penalty would be "too limiting," said French attorney Etienne Jaudel, who is also a former secretary general of the International Human Rights Federation (FIDH).

Those countries also impose in their legal system other penalties, such as lashing, that can lead to serious injuries and sometimes death.

One strong argument against the death penalty is that in so many countries it is inequitably imposed. Studies show that the prisoners most likely to be condemned to death are poor and lack the means to pay for competent defence lawyers, Jaudel said.

Links between poverty and the death penalty are not exclusive to Muslim and Arab countries. Rice said that the death penalty in the U.S. is more often inflicted on poor citizens than any other social class.

Abolition is possible, but only through "the result of political dialogue," Rice told conference participants. "We should be encouraging continued dialogue."

By sticking to the facts, agreed many speakers at the conference, abolitionists can slowly educate the public that the death penalty solves no public problems.

"The death penalty is not deterrent (to crime) and will never stop criminality," Taube told IPS.