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Northwestern Center Launches International Death Penalty Website

Researchers hope site will serve as resource for lawyers, journalists, policymakers, activists

April 14, 2011 | by Hilary Hurd Anyaso

CHICAGO --- Many governments previously committed to state-sponsored executions have been encouraging legislative committees and other bodies to consider the merits of abolishing the death penalty – or, at a minimum, to narrowing the scope of its application, according to new research from Northwestern University School of Law’s Center for International Human Rights (CIHR) in the Bluhm Legal Clinic.

The research casts new light on the application of the death penalty worldwide. The Death Penalty Worldwide website (http://www.deathpenaltyworldwide.org) and database are intended to fill a void and correct conflicts in current information about the laws and practices relating to the application of the death penalty around the world.

“On a less encouraging note, we discovered that in virtually every nation that retains the death penalty, indigent defendants are denied access to quality legal representation,” said Sandra Babcock, who coordinated the research by a large international team. 

“There can be little question that many innocent persons languish on death rows around the world in appalling conditions without any meaningful opportunity to challenge the fairness of their conviction and death sentence,” said Babcock, clinical professor of law at Northwestern and clinical director of the Center for International Human Rights.

The team examined the laws and practices of 90 countries and two territories that retain the death penalty and found that in the vast majority of retentionist states the merits of abolishing the death penalty are being seriously debated. 

Existing websites and reports related to the death penalty are not devoted to academic and legal analysis of developments in this field, according to Babcock, and some of the information conflicts, particularly when it comes to the laws of individual countries.  

The researchers hope the website will become a principal source for lawyers, jurists, journalists, policymakers and activists who are seeking reliable information on the laws and practices of retentionist and de facto abolitionist states. The project has received backing from the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty and the European Union.

“We are keenly aware of the resource constraints facing defense counsel around the world, particularly in the global south, and hope that the website will provide much-needed information regarding legal arguments they can employ in their advocacy,” Babcock said. 

The Death Penalty Worldwide website and database (http://www.deathpenaltyworldwide.org) was launched today in Strasbourg, France, at a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Topics: University News