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Black in Berlin: Germany’s Opinion on the Death Penalty

The European Union (EU) considers capital punishment to be the ultimate violation of human rights and basic human dignity. The EU’s position on capital punish is absolute, no crime warrants the death penalty. One of the mandates of the EU is to abolish capital punishment worldwide starting with its member countries. The EU has never been shy about its disapproval of America’s use of the death penalty, two days before the scheduled execution of Troy Davis they tried to intervene and pleaded for the commutation of his sentence.

In recent memory there have been instances where America and Europe’s ideological differences have manifested into actual beef. In 2009 it was announced that the US would seek the death penalty for the men accused of organizing the 9/11 attacks. One of the defendants shared an apartment with two of the hijackers while living in Hamburg, Germany. Germany demanded assurances that the evidence turned over by German law officials would not be used to support a death penalty. Germany and other EU countries can choose to deny evidence that would lead to death sentence convictions or refuse to extradite accused murderers due to the possibility of receiving the death sentence unless the United States guarantees that capital punishment won’t be pursued. Outside of the courtroom, Germany, Italy and Denmark have made it increasingly difficult for the United States to source key drugs needed to make the lethal injection cocktail.

Japan, South Korea, and the United States are the only established democracies that still conduct executions. Germany abolished capital punishment in 1949. It was believed for a long time that Germany abolished the death penalty in response to brutal executions committed by the Nazis, in an effort to restore the value for human rights. In 2005 a journalist named Charles Lane wrote a controversial article that revealed in 1949 77% of Germans were in favor of the death penalty. Lane reported that abolishing the death penalty was the idea of a high ranking Nazi sympathizer in a last ditch effort to save the lives of Nazi officials convicted of war crimes. He was successful, saving a handful, but it also changed Germany’s overall stance on capital punishment. Fast forward to 2011, I think  that the majority of Germans are against the death penalty and see it as barbaric. Recently I have been confronted with the question ‘Why does America still execute it’s own citizens?’

I can’t easily begin to explain why America, a champion of democracy and human rights world wide, and a catalyst for change still carry out something as archaic as an ‘eye for an eye.’ I can’t explain why despite the racial disparities in the death sentence convictions, numerous exonerated death row inmates and limited evidence that it deters crime that we persist in something that can only be seen as an act of retribution. I don’t think America will ever succumb to the international pressure of the Western world to do away with the death penalty. No amount of criticism or blockages of pharmaceuticals will budge us. The change will have to come from within.

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