Thursday, 23 September 2010

Double standards on human rights

Last month I took part in a protest to highlight the plight of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the Iranian women facing the death penalty by stoning. Her case has rightly attracted international attention and it appears the protests have been effective in saving her life. There is more than a touch of double standards though from some of those who have championed Ms Ashtiani and espouse human rights abroad, especially as a stick with which to beat foreign governments, while ignoring human rights abuses in the West.

I was reminded of this as news came through that the US Supreme Court has upheld the right of the state of Virgina to execute Teresa Lewis. She was convicted of hiring two men to kill her ex-husband and stepson with the intention of collecting an insurance payout. After her trial it came out that Teresa has an IQ of 72, near the level of intellectual disability, and also suffered from a dependent personality disorder. There are strong suggestions she was manipulated by her lover, ‘a petty criminal with ambitions of being a professional hit-man who boasted to friends that he was the real mastermind of the murder plot.’

Since America re-introduced the death penalty in 1977 1,226 people have been killed. Campaigners against it highlight the fact those executed are overwhelmingly black and poor. 42% of prisoners on death row are African America, despite comprising only 12% of the U.S. population. And if you can afford good representation, you won’t end up on death row. Teresa couldn’t. The quality of her legal defence has been condemned by her supporters including crime novelist and former trial lawyer John Grisham.

Teresa's supporters are urging people to contact the governor of Virginia calling for a reprieve. Details in this YouTube video which includes a recording of Teresa singing a beautiful rendition of her favourite song.