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Among them, the article notes that more than half of all executions have occurred in the three states of Texas, Oklahoma and Virginia. This geographical bias, the article notes, is indicative of some degree of inconsistency in a system that determines the right to take the lives of its subjects. Another issue that is even more disturbing is the inherent racial bias that underscores the American judicial system. According to the article, "Studies have shown that race plays a part in who receives the death penalty in the U.S.A., with murders involving white victims more likely to result in death sentences than those involving black victims. 'Race, geography, electoral politics, local finances, jury composition, and the quality of legal representation are all problematic factors in capital cases in the U.S.A. Being tried for a capital crime is like taking part in a lethal lottery, and it should have no place in any justice system,' said Widney Brown." (AI3, p. 1).
The AI article resolves with the assertion that the day in which the United States does finally declare a moratorium on judicial executions will be one in which it can begin to have a more markedly positive impact on this issue on the global scale. Indeed, today, the death penalty continues in yet more unabated and troubling fashions throughout the developing sphere. And nations with the capacity to intervene such as the U.S. are clearly in no ethical or practical position to do so. One of the most immediately pressing instances where a change in U.S. policy could help improve developing sphere conditions comes to our consideration from Nigeria. Much of the African continent is demonstrative of the goals which are part and parcel to the Amnesty mission, presenting human rights advocates with a slew of institutional challenges that ultimately allow for these types of abuses in the areas of imprisonment and the use of capital punishment. For instance, contrary to the judicial parameters of a constitutional democracy, Nigeria has demonstrated a willingness to execute even convicts who have not yet reached legal adulthood. To this extent, "as of February 2008, 725 men and 11 women were on death row in Nigeria. At least 40 of them were under 18. About 53% were convicted of murder. Most of the rest were convicted of armed robbery and robbery." (AI1, 1) and as the article by Amnesty International highlights, these convictions rest on the terms of trial law that is demonstrably unfair and contrary to due process.
The Amnesty report on this subject indicates that there are root causes for this type of social problem that are exemplified by this situation in Nigeria. Particularly, there is a persistent shortcoming on the part of law-enforcement to be able to effectively combat the degree of civil crime which is rampant in Nigeria. The response which is typically exhibited by a dramatically short-handed police and judicial force will tend to suggest an aggressive over-compensation for limited resource and effectiveness. This results in broad-based tendency toward clear human rights abuses as a normalized part of law enforcement. Indeed, the experience of many death-row inmates in Nigeria is such that the resolution of execution is only the final punishment in a litany of violations. As the 2008 report tells, "almost 80% of inmates in Nigerian prisons say they have been beaten, threatened with weapons or tortured in police cells. Confessions are often extracted under torture." (AI1,1)
Nigeria is merely a representative example of a global issue with far-reaching implications to the freedoms and protections afforded citizens in the developing world. The pattern seen here with respect to capital punishment is repeated in a host of other nations which have run afoul of Amnesty International's standards. Iran is another important representative face of the developing world, often serving as a regional leader for the Arab and Islamic nations of the Middle East. This makes it a primary focus for many NGOs which concern themselves with its poor example in the area of human rights. Accordingly, Amnesty International's (2006) report, following the election of the hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, indicates that the new administration would illustrate "an apparent intensification of repression over the past six months since the President took office, which includes frequent use of the death penalty and torture, persecution of ethnic and religious minorities and limitations on freedom of speech." (AI, 1)
Unfortunately, Amnesty International would argue, the U.S. is in a poor position to impose pressure for change in any of the above-noted contexts. However, there is some evidence that the Amnesty International strategy has begun to pay off in the legislative context of the U.S. In 2007, AI would report that the state of New Jersey had abolished the death penalty in its state in perpetuity and consistent with the standards for human rights protections that are increasingly accepted throughout the developed sphere. In its article on the passage of the new bill, AI reported that it "hopes and believes that the passing of this bill marks a turning point in the use of the death penalty in the U.S. New Jersey is the first U.S. state to abolish capital punishment under law in the modern death penalty era, commencing in 1972." (AI4, p. 1)
This denotes that even as the U.S. continues to maintain its federal policy on the death penalty, incremental change can be created by way of the social capital strategies employed at Amnesty International. One would also hope that it marks the kind of transition in policy orientation that AI requires to fulfill its broader global expectations where the death penalty is concerned. If sufficient pressure can be applied through AI-published findings, the public will may ultimately force change in the United States. This, in turn, will make the United States a far more powerful advocate to the human rights improvement agenda at Amnesty International.
Amnesty International (AI). (Feb. 2006). EU-IRAN: NUCLEAR DISPUTE MUST NOT OVERSHADOW HUMAN RIGHTS. Amnesty.org.
Amnesty International (AI1). (Oct. 2008). Poverty and the death penalty in Nigeria. Amnesty.org.
Amnesty International (AI2). (Oct. 2008). NGOs warn poor countries neglected in financial bail-outs. Amnesty.org
Amnesty International (AI3). (Oct. 2010). USA increasingly isolated as the world turns against death penalty. Amnesty.org
Amnesty International (AI4). (Dec. 2007). U.S. state abolishes death penalty. Amnesty.org.
The Report. (2008). Iran. Amnesty International. Online at http://thereport.amnesty.org/eng/regions/middle-east-and-north-africa/iran
Ron, J.; Ramos, H. & Rodgers, K. (2001). Transnational Information Politics: NGO Human Rights Reporting, 1986-2000. ISQ.
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