human rights violations, law, most absurd human rights violations

The Most Absurd Human Rights Violations (135): Arrested For Overdue Library Book

enck

A Texas man … was arrested for failing to return an overdue library. … In October [2013], police were called to Enck’s Copperas Cove, Texas, apartment on an unrelated disturbance charge, but arrested Enck after finding a past warrant for an unreturned GED study guide. He was released on a $200 bond, then requested time-served. Enck, who has since returned the book, said he couldn’t bring it back initially because he was in prison. He checked it out before beginning a 3-year sentence for robbery. … 

[M]any communities faced with shrinking budgets and rising costs have ordinances calling for fines or even arrest warrants when library property isn’t returned. In Texas alone, the issue has cost libraries an estimated $18 million. (source)

When exactly did we forget that criminal punishment in general, and incarceration in particular, are about incapacitation and the protection of society? I guess we should all feel safer now, knowing this dangerous criminal is off the streets. And while this may be a rare case, over-incarceration is an endemic problem. Scores of people who are no threat whatsoever to no one are put in jail for petty crimes. Almost one in very 100 Americans is in jail.

I personally blame misguided ideas about deterrence and retribution. A fine, community service or some other “alternative” punishment doesn’t seem appropriate to people who believe punishment should fit the crime and deter future crime. Maybe if we understand that deterrence is a hopeless ideal and retribution is incoherent can we kick our prison addiction. But I won’t hold my breath.

Other posts in this series are here

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human rights violations, law, most absurd human rights violations

The Most Absurd Human Rights Violations (134): 10 Year Old Rape Victim Prevented From Aborting Twins

A 10-year-old girl [not in the image above] who is pregnant with twins after she was raped by a neighbour has been forced to continue with her pregnancy after human rights campaigners lost their fight to secure a legal route to abortion.

The plight of the girl, who is five months pregnant and lives in Ziguinchor in the south [of Senegal], highlights the heavy cost women and children are paying for a Napoleonic law on abortion that is still in force in the former French colony.

“She is going to have to go through with the pregnancy,” said Fatou Kiné Camara, president of the Senegalese women lawyers’ association. “The best we can do is keep up pressure on the authorities to ensure the girl gets regular scans and free medical care.

“Senegal‘s abortion law is one of the harshest and deadliest in Africa. A doctor or pharmacist found guilty of having a role in a termination faces being struck off. A woman found guilty of abortion can be jailed for up to 10 years.”

Forty women were held in custody in Senegal on charges linked to the crimes of abortion or infanticide in the first six months of last year, official figures show. According to estimates, hundreds of women die every year from botched illegal terminations.

“For a termination to be legal in Senegal, three doctors have to certify that the woman will die unless she aborts immediately. Poor people in Senegal are lucky if they see one doctor in their lifetime, let alone three,” Camara said. (source)

Brings to mind this older case. Now, I personally have doubts about the permissibility of abortion in a lot of circumstances, but this is pretty clear I think, and it should be clear even to those who are more staunchly opposed to abortion than I am. Other posts in this series are here. More on abortion rights here and here.

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capital punishment, human rights violations, law, most absurd human rights violations

The Most Absurd Human Rights Violations (133): Egypt Industrializes the Death Penalty

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(source)

Egypt today [Monday, March 24, 2014] sentenced 529 Muslim Brotherhood supporters to death for their roles in violent riots in Minya, in Upper Egypt, last August.

The riots broke out following a crackdown on sit-ins in support of ousted president Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader, which left hundreds of supporters dead.

The Minya riots left one police officer dead – a crime all 529 defendants are accused of. (source)

And it’s not just the massive number of sentences issued at the same time that evokes the image of an industrialized form of “justice”. The trial started on Saturday and ended on Monday…

More on capital punishment and Egypt. More posts in this series are here.

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capital punishment, law, most absurd human rights violations

The Most Absurd Human Rights Violations (132): The Difference Between Life and Death is One IQ Point

Freddie Lee Hall

Freddie Lee Hall

For Freddie Lee Hall, a difference of one IQ point could be the difference between life and death.

Hall, 68, has been on the US state of Florida’s death row for 35 years for his involvement in the 1978 murder and sexual assault of a pregnant woman and the related murder of a deputy sheriff. Despite finding that Hall had been “mentally retarded” his entire life, a state trial court sentenced him to death by lethal injection.

Today, the US Supreme Court will hold oral arguments in Hall v. Florida to resolve whether Hall’s death sentence violates the constitutional ban on executing people with intellectual disabilities (the preferred term today).

In 2002, in Atkins v. Virginia, the Supreme Court held that executing people with intellectual disabilities constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment,” prohibited under the US Constitution. The justices provided general guidance for defining intellectual disability but ultimately left implementation to the states, an omission that now lies at the heart of today’s arguments.

In the aftermath of the Atkins decision, Hall appealed his death sentence, but Florida’s supreme court denied his appeal. The state’s requirements for intellectual disability set a “bright line” cutoff IQ score of 70 or below. Hall, having presented IQ scores between 71 and 80, missed the cutoff by a single point.

The Supreme Court will need to decide whether this bright line cutoff violates Atkins. (source)

I wonder: is it that difficult to fake an IQ test – or several tests – and make yourself appear less intelligent than you are? Just fail to answer a few questions. Of course, even if you can’t fake an IQ test the Atkins system remains absurd. As a general rule, it’s OK to account for diminished criminal responsibility of the intellectually disabled, but in the case of the death penalty the difference between diminished and non-diminished is life and death. Criminal justice shouldn’t be about life and death. There’s no good reason for the death penalty, for anyone.

More on capital punishment and IQ. More posts in this series are here.

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most absurd human rights violations

The Most Absurd Human Rights Violations (131): Protester Charged With Sexual Assault After Kissing Riot Police

This photograph of Nina De Chiffre went viral on social media and was hailed as a symbol of peaceful protest in the country

This photograph of Nina De Chiffre went viral on social media and was hailed as a symbol of peaceful protest in Italy

(source)

[A] 20-year-old student was photographed kissing officer Salvatore Piccione during a protest against a planned rail link in Northern Italy. …

COISP, a union representing Italian police officers, later revealed that they had lodged a complaint with Turin prosecutors. Franco Maccari, the union’s general secretary told La Repubblica: “We have accused the protester of sexual violence and insulting a public official.

“If the policeman had kissed her, World War III would have broken out,” he said. “Or what if I had patted her on the behind? She would have been outraged. So if she does that to a man on duty, should it be tolerated?”, he added. “A kiss is a positive thing,” he said. “But in this context, between these two people, it was just disrespect.”

It later emerged that Nina De Chiffre had not only kissed the officer but had also licked her fingers and touched his mouth. According to reports the protester has since been charged with “sexual violence” and causing “offence to a public official”. (source)

Obviously not the first time the word “rape” has been redefined to fit the needs of the powerful. More posts in this series are here.

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capital punishment, human rights violations, law, most absurd human rights violations

The Most Absurd Human Rights Violations (130): Being Executed Twice

hanging in iran

hanging in Iran

(source)

Iran must stop the execution of man who was found alive at a morgue a day after being hanged, Amnesty International urged today after authorities said the prisoner would be hanged for a second time once his condition improves.

The 37-year-old, identified as “Alireza M”, was hanged in Bojnourd prison in north-east Iran last week after being convicted of drug offences.

According to official state media, a doctor declared him dead after the 12 minute-hanging, but when the prisoner’s family went to collect his body the following day he was found to still be breathing.

He is currently in hospital, but a judge reportedly said he would be executed again “once medical staff confirm his health condition is good enough”. (source)

Here‘s more on botched executions. More posts in this series are here.

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human rights violations, law, most absurd human rights violations

The Most Absurd Human Rights Violations (129): Bangladeshi Girl, 14, Lashed to Death

Hena Akhter’s last words to her mother proclaimed her innocence. But it was too late to save the 14-year-old girl.

Her fellow villagers in Bangladesh’s Shariatpur district had already passed harsh judgment on her. Guilty, they said, of having an affair with a married man. The imam from the local mosque ordered the fatwa, or religious ruling, and the punishment: 101 lashes delivered swiftly, deliberately in public.

Hena dropped after 70.

Bloodied and bruised, she was taken to hospital, where she died a week later.

Amazingly, an initial autopsy report cited no injuries and deemed her death a suicide. Hena’s family insisted her body be exhumed. They wanted the world to know what really happened to their daughter. (source)

“Adultery”, it turned out, meant that she had been raped. More posts in this series are here.

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human rights violations, law, most absurd human rights violations

The Most Absurd Human Rights Violations (128): Child Starves in 21st Century England

Hamzah Khan

(source, source)

A mummified, stunted corpse of a four-year old boy lay undiscovered for nearly two years in his mother’s house before he was found by police resting next to his teddy bear. … Hamzah Khan’s tiny body, starved by years of neglect, was clothed in a sleep suit designed for a baby aged six to nine months when police made the discovery at his home in Bradford, West Yorkshire.

His mother, 43-year-old Amanda Hutton, who on Wednesday at Bradford crown court denied manslaughter, was discovered surrounded by empty bottles, pizza boxes and faeces when police raided the property. Upstairs, under a pile of debris which covered his travel cot, lay the body of her son. …

Paul Greaney QC, opening the case for the prosecution, accused Hamzah’s mother of neglecting the infant. “In short, he starved to death. How had a child starved to death in 21st century England? Amanda Hutton failed to provide her child with the nourishment that he needed to survive, and in so failing, she killed him.” …

The mother, the court heard, was addicted to both alcohol and cannabis. That day Hutton was found surrounded by flies and rubbish piled so high the carpet in her living room was no longer visible. Pictures of the squalor shown to the jury revealed that only her bedroom – where the decomposing body of her son had lain for years – was relatively uncluttered. (source)

Some of you may be tempted to call this a tragedy rather than a rights violation, especially since it seems that the mother wasn’t completely sane. However, children should be protected, if necessary by society. The rest of the story, which you can read at the source link above, does suggest that the local government could have seen this coming and failed to act appropriately. A failure to protect is, in my view, equivalent to a rights violation.

Something similar is here. More posts in this series are here.

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capital punishment, human rights violations, law, most absurd human rights violations

The Most Absurd Human Rights Violations (127): Execution by Cannon

One from the history books this time:

Execution by cannon, in Shiraz, Iran, Mid-Late 1800s

Execution by cannon, in Shiraz, Iran, Mid-Late 1800s

Suppression of the Indian Revolt by the English, a painting by Vasily Vereshchagin c. 1884

Suppression of the Indian Revolt by the English, a painting by Vasily Vereshchagin c. 1884

Nowadays, countries that still apply the death penalty try not to make a show of it (with a few exceptions). However, it used to be the case that the show was just as important as the punishment. People have long been very imaginative in this respect and have always found ways to make executions more horrible than necessary. An infamous example was “death by elephant“. And here’s another one:

Blowing from a gun is a method of execution in which the victim is typically tied to the mouth of a cannon and the cannon is fired. George Carter Stent, in his “Scraps from my Sabretache” describes the process as follows:

The prisoner is generally tied to a gun with the upper part of the small of his back resting against the muzzle. When the gun is fired, his head is seen to go straight up into the air some 40 or fifty feet; the arms fly off right and left, high up in the air, and fall at, perhaps, a hundred yards distance; the legs drop to the ground beneath the muzzle of the gun; and the body is literally blown away altogether, not a vestige being seen.

[T]he nation most well known to having implemented this type of execution is Great Britain in its role as colonial master in India, and in particular, as a punishment for native soldiers found guilty of mutiny or desertion. The British began implementing blowing from guns in the latter half of the 18th century. (source)

And, because human imagination knows no bounds, sometimes the victim was actually put into the gun, and executed in that manner. Either way, the method wasn’t without danger for the onlookers. In one case,

precaution had not been taken to remove the sponge and loadmen from their proper station near the muzzle of the guns; and the consequence was, that they were bespattered with blood, and bruised by the scattered limbs of the prisoners—one man in particular being struck down by a heavy fragment of one of the mutilated bodies, and severely injured by the contusion. (source)

More posts in this series are here.

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human rights violations, law, most absurd human rights violations

The Most Absurd Human Rights Violations (126): One Hand Clapping in Belarus

scene from Twin Peaks

scene from Twin Peaks

It’s an old one, but I just found it now:

The sound of one hand clapping may be one of those proverbial mysteries, but a man was arrested and seriously punished in Minsk this week (July 2011) for allegedly doing it.

It’s a little whiff of absurdity amid a wave of unrelentingly grim news from Belarus, where “Europe’s last dictator” Alexander Lukashenko is digging in against growing public protests over a collapsing economy that’s gutted living standards and left hundreds of thousands out of work since January in the little post-Soviet country of 10 million.

In order to evade tough regulations on public rallies, protesters eschew placards and shouted slogans, and merely clap their hands to display their anger at Mr. Lukashenko’s policies. Since the weekly flash mob protests began last month, more than 1,700 people have been arrested – 400 this week alone. Most of them were fined heavily or jailed for up to 15 days on police court testimony that they were expressing a political opinion by clapping their hands in public.

But Konstantin Kaplin, an unemployed man from the western town of Grodno, says he was convicted this week of applauding in public and fined the equivalent of $200, despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence: He is officially registered as a disabled person and has only one arm.

[T]here have been similar cases amid the masses of detainees being rapidly processed through Belarusian courts. “There was one case where a deaf and mute person was accused of shouting antigovernmental slogans”. (source)

As a result, people then decided to protest by just standing together and doing nothing. To no avail: this as well has been rendered illegal

More posts in this series are here.

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