The International Justice Project works towards the development, coordination and increased employment of international law and human rights standards as they pertain to capital punishment. The project is organized to undertake the following:
- Provide technical assistance and coordinate efforts to promote the
employment of international law and human rights standards.
- Liaise between foreign governments and legal counsel on specific cases,
providing comprehensive, accurate and timely information. Offer guidance
on political and legal strategy when possible foreign governmental intervention
is under consideration.
- Share technical legal knowledge and legislative strategy with lawyers,
students, international entities, and organizations, becoming a clearinghouse
for information, experience and expertise.
- Organize conferences and workshops focused on international law as
it relates to the death penalty. These forums will allow for candid, dynamic
discussion between the international and domestic communities on the numerous
- Establish an internship program, giving students of human rights and/or
international law, especially from those countries where the death penalty
is still utilized, the opportunity to spend valuable time working with
and assisting the project. Students will be able to broaden their knowledge
of general principles of international law as well as the relationship
between international and domestic law.
The abolition of the death penalty is generally considered to be a principal element in democratic development. In several countries abolition is realized by specific reference, in constitutional instruments, to international treaties prohibiting the death penalty. In others, it has been the contribution of the judiciary, when judges apply constitutions that make no specific mention of the death penalty, but do protect the right to life and prohibit cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, as seen in South Africa in 1995. Considering the evidence, there is a conspicuous global evolution towards abolition, with 108 countries abolishing the death penalty in law or practice. For those states, which still maintain the use of capital punishment, the categories of individuals who may not be executed are more numerous than ever. International law is developing standards for procedural requirements that are essential to any trial in which the death penalty may be imposed by law. These norms have been well established in convention.
In the last year, the United States has witnessed increased public scrutiny surrounding the use of capital punishment. The result of such intense analysis has allowed capital punishment to develop into the ideal vehicle with which to advance the use of international law in the United States. The efforts of the project will help further the cause of abolition; the end result human rights instruments call for, whilst sensitizing the US to the world community, thus drawing the U.S. into the international human rights treaty regime. It is our belief that the project is perfectly positioned to assist and advance the application of human rights law within the American judicial system, whilst simultaneously working at the international level to encourage further debate and progress.
Domestically, there are four particular categories of cases that have drawn the attention of the international community. They include, juvenile offenders, persons with mental retardation, the mentally ill and foreign nationals. These four categories of cases are significant. The first three are specifically prohibited by international human rights norms with which the United States declines to comply, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of countries have either legally abolished the practice or no longer carry out death sentences on such cases as a matter of custom and practice. The fourth, cases involving foreign nationals, is of obvious interest to any foreign government, which has one of its nationals either, threatened with or under sentence of death in the United States.
There are also broader concerns regarding the application of the death penalty in the United States. Within the past decades, the United States has become a party to a wide range of international human rights treaties dealing with genocide, torture, racial discrimination and general civil and political rights. The question of whether and how these treaties apply in domestic capital litigation is a complex one, which has been taken up with enthusiastic interest by lawyers handling death penalty cases. Both these general concerns and the specific concerns of other nations raised in the four particular cases mentioned above inspire unique and vastly underdeveloped legal arguments. Therefore, the project will assemble and utilize experts within numerous fields making them available to advise on the complex approach necessary in each case.
A further key element of the project is an internship program, where students
of human rights and/or international law, especially from countries where
the death penalty is still employed, will be given the opportunity to spend
valuable time working with and assisting the projects work. This experience
will give them an invaluable opportunity to learn and to practice. The
project will provide an environment, which will permit the students to
collaborate on cases while developing a better understanding of technical
legal issues. Students will be able to broaden their knowledge of general
principles of international law as well as the relationship between international
and domestic law. The externship program will enable students to appreciate
the political and practical landscape in which these principles operate.
(Link to Externships section of this site for more
Moreover, the project will sponsor and coordinate international conferences
and educational forums in the U.S. The educational component will focus
on international law and its application in U.S. domestic law, whilst drawing
upon the experiences of other countries in their efforts to implement
international human rights obligations. Workshops and conferences concentrating
on the international
legal framework and context of specific topics pertaining to the death
penalty will be held, covering for example, issues of fair trial, juvenile
offenders, the mentally retarded/mentally ill and the complex problems
associated with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR).
Experts will also be available to present at conferences around the country
and abroad, representing the project. (Link to Training & Events
for more information.)