Troy Davis case leading to U.S. isolation on international stage
Should the state of Georgia proceed with the execution of Troy Davis, scheduled for 7 p.m. tonight, the United States will find itself thoroughly isolated from allies who have long since abolished the use of capital punishment, and may be violating international humanitarian law — specifically related to mock executions.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has joined the European Parliament, Amnesty International, former President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI and Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu in calling for his execution to be halted.
Renate Wohlwend, rapporteur of PACE on abolition of the death penalty, has made a last-ditch appeal to the Georgian authorities to refrain from executing Troy Davis:
Following the decision of the Georgia parole board to deny Troy Davis clemency, I appeal to the Georgian authorities, even at this late hour, not to carry out his execution. To carry out this irrevocable act now would be a terrible mistake which could lead to a tragic injustice.
As Amnesty International and many others have shown, there is serious doubt about Mr Davis’s conviction. Since his trial, seven out of nine key witnesses have recanted or changed their testimony, some alleging police coercion, and many believe that another man has been identified as the perpetrator of the crime.
The Council of Europe is opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances – but in this case, there exists the real possibility that an innocent man will go to his death. It is precisely because of this risk that three US states have recently legislated to abolish the death penalty.
Mr Davis’s execution has already been delayed three times. Not only as a humanitarian gesture, but above all for the sake of justice, I appeal for his life.
Troy Davis’s scheduled execution tonight is the fourth time he has come within a short time of being administered with lethal drugs in as many years.
In September 2008, Davis came within 90 minutes of execution, taken off the gurney after a last-minute intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court. On July 16, 2007 he was granted a stay just one day before he was due to die, and on October 24, 2008, at the third attempt to kill him, he was spared temporarily three days before his execution date.
As the Guardian reports, “experts in death row and its psychological impact on prisoners say that such multiple exposure to imminent judicial death is tantamount to a form of torture.” Human rights campaigners say it should be banned, regardless of the guilt or innocence of the prisoner.
Brian Evans, a death row specialist with Amnesty International USA, pointed out that under international law, mock executions were considered to be a form of torture. “Troy Davis’s treatment was not a mock execution, but it has had the same effect. Especially when he has come within hours of death, and said his final goodbyes – that is certainly similar to torture.”
The United States has consistently come under fire from 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 one of its 55 members – reiterated its call for all member 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.
In 2010, 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.”
Indeed, Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does offer legitimacy to the use of the death penalty, specifically stating:
In countries which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes in accordance with the law in force at the time of the commission of the crime and not contrary to the provisions of the present Covenant and to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This penalty can only be carried out pursuant to a final judgement rendered by a competent court.
However, Article 6 also states that “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.” Further, it clarifies that “Nothing in this article shall be invoked to delay or to prevent the abolition of capital punishment by any State Party to the present Covenant.”
The Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant notes “that article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights refers to abolition of the death penalty in terms that strongly suggest that abolition is desirable,” and goes on to provide a legal framework for the eventual universal abolition of capital punishment. As of September 2011, the Optional Protocol has 73 states parties.
The U.S. finds itself among 42 countries around the world that maintain the death penalty in both law and practice, while 95 countries — including all Western allies — have abolished it.
When it comes to the case of Troy Davis, Amnesty International highlights the particular egregiousness of executing this man in light of the considerable doubt surrounding the case.
“In 2007,” Amnesty notes, “the [Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles] vowed that no execution would go forward unless there was ‘no doubt’ about guilt, a vow that has now been rendered meaningless. Amnesty International urges the Board to reconsider its decision immediately, and for District Attorney Larry Chisolm to seek to vacate the death warrant. Should Georgia execute Davis, the state “may well have executed an innocent man and in so doing discredited the justice system.”
“The case against Davis unraveled long ago,” Amnesty continues. “Seven out of nine original state witnesses recanted or changed their original testimonies, some alleging police coercion.” Further, ten people have pointed to one of the remaining witnesses as the actual killer. No murder weapon links Davis to the crime and any notion of physical evidence that demonstrates Davis’ guilt has been debunked.
Yet, barring a last-minute intervention, the execution will proceed as scheduled, marking both a grave miscarriage of justice domestically and further international isolation for the United States when it comes to human rights.
Amnesty International is encouraging supporters to call the Savannah District Attorney’s office, 912-652-7308, asking them to rescind the death warrant.