From Death Row to Oslo: Mumia’s case spotlights U.S. non-compliance
An appeals court yesterday unanimously declared Mumia Abu-Jamal’s death sentence unconstitutional, marking the second time the court has agreed with a lower court judge who set aside Abu-Jamal’s death sentence after finding that jurors were given confusing instructions that encouraged them to give the former Black Panther a death sentence.
Abu-Jamal, convicted in 1982 of murdering a white police officer, has always professed his innocence. For years, human rights groups have said his original trial was deeply flawed and have been calling for a new chance for Abu-Jamal to prove his innocence. In 2000, Amnesty International called for a new trial on the basis that his original trial was racially biased.
“This is not about an issue affecting the life of just one man,” Amnesty International said. “This is about justice – which affects us all. And justice, in this case, can only be served by a new trial.”
Amnesty’s exhaustively researched report, “A Life in The Balance — The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal,” begins by noting the international significance of Mumia’s case, which has generated “more controversy and received more attention, both national and international, than that of any other inmate currently under sentence of death in the United States of America.”
It goes on to discuss the factual discrepancies and procedural problems of the original trial:
In a case where the prosecution’s theory of the crime rests on a specific sequence of events involving an exchange of gunfire, the gathering of ballistics evidence is crucial – as is the ability of the defence to present its own expert testimony on the significance of that evidence. The failure of the police to test Abu-Jamal’s gun, hands and clothing for evidence of recent firing is deeply troubling. Without the ability to hear and assess that missing evidence, the jury was required to reach a verdict based largely on the contradictory and variable testimony of a limited list of eye witnesses.
The United States has consistently come under fire from its European allies for its application of the death penalty, which sets it apart from all other Western democracies. Last year, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – the OSCE PA, which counts the U.S. as a member – reiterated its call for all of its 56 participating states to abolish the death penalty.
The United States is one of only two OSCE countries – along with Belarus – that continues the practice of putting its citizens to death.
Last year, the OSCE PA, in its Oslo Declaration, expressed its deep concern that people are still being sentenced to death and executions are carried out in Belarus and in the USA.
Recalling previous resolutions on the death penalty passed by the OSCE PA, the Oslo Declaration urges a moratorium on capital punishment and to respect safeguards protecting the rights of those facing the death penalty, as laid down in the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council Safeguards.
In response to European criticism at the OSCE’s October 2010 Review Conference Session on the human dimension commitments, the U.S. delegation maintained that capital punishment is used in the United States only as a measure of last resort and is reserved for particularly heinous crimes, and administered only after due process has been followed.
Further, the United States Mission pointed out that capital punishment is not prohibited under any international law, nor does it violate any OSCE commitments. “The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights recognizes its legitimacy,” said the U.S. ambassador, “and our Constitution has vested individual states with the authority to take decisions on this matter.”
Yet, human rights groups would take exception to this claim as it pertains to Mumia Abu-Jamal. As Amnesty International said in 2000:
After many years of monitoring the case and an exhaustive review of the original documents, Amnesty International has concluded that the proceedings under which Mumia Abu-Jamal was tried, convicted and sentenced to death fail to reach the minimum international standards for fair trials.
The latest development in the saga of Mumia Abu-Jamal is indeed a cause for celebration, but at the same time, there is no indication that he will be granted a new trial as called for by international justice. Therefore, we must continue to call for Mumia’s freedom.