Sanctioned Death and Racism Is 1998's Legacy

The Humanist, July 1999 | Go to article overview

Sanctioned Death and Racism Is 1998's Legacy


Despite historic forward in the struggle against impunity, perpetrators of gross human rights abuses continued to escape justice in 1998, according to Amnesty International's annual report. Released June 16, 1999, the report details abuses committed by governments and paramilitary groups in 142 countries and territories during the fiftieth anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It also applauds the positive steps taken toward building an international system of accountability for abuses, including the July 1998 agreement to establish a permanent International Criminal Court and the October arrest of former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet.

In particular, the report focuses on the use of the death penalty and calls for a worldwide ban by 2000. AI says the only country known to have executed juvenile offenders in 1998 was the United States, where use of the death penalty is arbitrary, unfair, and racist. Some Latin and South American countries took unprecedented steps to facilitate executions--effectively cutting off recourse to international bodies for the redress of human rights violations.

The death penalty continued to be widely used in many countries of the Middle East and North Africa, along with torture and ill-treatment of prisoners, particularly in Egypt and Israel and the Occupied Territories. However, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Estonia, and Lithuania abolished the death penalty, while Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan instituted moratoria on it. Asia's Nepal also reinforced its opposition to the death penalty.

"The premeditated killing of defenseless people should not be condoned by any society," says Al Secretary General Pierre Sane "Accepting executions means condemning ourselves to living in a world where murderers set the moral tone and brutality is officially sanctioned. Deliberately killing someone violates the most basic of all human rights--the right to life itself--and has no place in today's world."

Racial and ethnic tensions continued to play a major role in human rights violations across Europe. In a prelude of events to come, Al received hundreds of reports of human rights violations against ethnic Albanians in the Kosovo region of Yugoslavia, including "disappearances" at the hands of security forces. Many of the "disappeared" were deliberately and arbitrarily killed by the police, army, or civilians armed by the authorities.

In November, the United Nations Committee Against Torture drew attention to the number of deaths in police custody in the United Kingdom and the lack of effective mechanisms to deal with allegations of abuse, including racist verbal abuse, by police and prison authorities. …

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