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FEATURE U N Death Watch BY MICHAEL KING The death penalty is a human rights problem. It’s not a matter of popularity, or…a kind of political de vice It’s a human rights issue. Because there is no state all over the world that does not recognize that every human being has a right to life and the state has an obligation to protect this right to life So even if their citizenssome of them, not the best onesfail to respect the life of their fellows, why [should] the state should follow their example? Bacre Waly Ndiaye, United Nations Special Rapporteur lyV ” ith any late-season luckand the considerable contribution of the state of Texasthe United States stands to move up in the 1997 International Rankings for State Killing. According to statistics maintained by Amnesty International, in 1996 the U.S., with forty-five executions nationwide, ranked just seventh in the world, behind such havens for freedom and justice as China, the Ukraine, Russia, Turkmenistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. The U.S. can’t hope to catch China, the runaway leader at 4,173 executions last year. And the next fourfrom the Ukraine, at 167, to Iran, at 110are probably out of reach, at least in the short run. But the staunch U.S. ally and feudal dictatorship known as Saudi Arabia managed to execute only sixty-nine of its citizens in 1996. As this issue of the Observer goes to press \(late eight, with two full months yet to go. The state of Texas alone has contributed thirty-one terminations to the national total, and is currently planning to execute eight more prisoners by the end of the year. Not all of those people will die but for the nation, breaking seventy for 1997 is certainly not out of the question. Saudi Arabia and Iran had better look out. Although this grisly competition has gone unremarked in the mainstream U.S. media, it has generated an international outcry, particularly in Europe. In early October, Texas was on the itinerary of two international delegations investigating the U.S. expansion of the death penalty. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, Bacre Waly Ndiaye of Senegal, visited Austin, Houston, and Huntsville as part of a three-week research trip across the U.S. \(other stops included D.C., the General Secretary of Amnesty International \(also an attorney part of his tour of the American South under the theme, “From Civil Rights Back to Human Rights.” During their visits to Texas, both men addressed the death penalty as a human rights issue, as distinct from simply a criminal justice or political matter. In speeches across the South, Sane spoke of the relation between the death penalty, racial discrimination, and police brutality, and the human rights standards embodied in such international agreements as the U.N. Universal Declaration of Sane noted that while “the rest of the world was turning its back on the death penalty, Texas is escalating its state killing” and accelerating the process of capital punishment. Sane toured the death row tiers and spoke to several prisoners, including Kenneth Ray Ran”Never before had I met a healthy human being who knew the precise date, time, and method in which he would be killed, in cold blood. If this does not violate the constitutional prohibition against cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, what does? The conveyor belt of death in Texas must stop.” According to Amnesty figures, one hundred countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, while ninety-four retain it for some crimes. Worldwide, the U.S. is among the dozen countries responsible for more than 90 percent of executions. A spokesman for Attorney General Dan Morales responded to Sane’s remarks, saying “The people of Texas support the death penalty [and] it is the responsibility of prosecutors and the attorney general to carry out the law.” Sane noted the apparent professionalism of Huntsville prison officials, and added, “It’s not [professionalism] that surprises me. It’s what this professionalism reflects. You have here a machinery of death, a conveyor belt of death, and you have professionals manning it.” EXECUTIONS BY REGION, 1976 OCT. 14, 1997 400 343 South West Midwest Northeast Texas alone Source: Amnesty International, October 1997 8 THE TEXAS OBSERVER NOVEMBER 7, 1997