December 29, 2010

Government slow to act on execution drug claims

by Jan Harris

The news that a UK company is believed to be exporting execution drugs to the US at vastly inflated prices would be expected to prompt swift action from the government.

However, 13 days after Business Secretary Vince Cable was warned of the situation by Reprieve, a charity which assists prisoners facing the death penalty, no moves have been made to ban the exports.

Yesterday, Reprieve warned Mr Cable it would take legal action unless the export ban was imposed within 72 hours.

The execution drug sodium thiopental was ordered from Reading-based Archimedes Pharma on 6 December by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and has now been shipped to the US.

The situation worsened on the 16 December when Reprieve informed Mr Cable that two further execution drugs, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride, had also been exported.

It is believed that the drugs are currently being held by the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The US is being forced to source sodium thiopental from overseas as domestic supplies have run out.

Reprieve has also given notice to the European Commission that it will face legal action by the European Court of Human Rights unless an EU-wide export ban on the three drugs is imposed within 60 days.

The UK government’s position on the death penalty is clearly stated in its ‘Death Penalty Strategy’, published in October 2010, which says:

“The UK opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle because it undermines human dignity; there is no conclusive evidence of its deterrent value; and any miscarriage of justice leading to its imposition is irreversible and irreparable.”

The strategy also states that the UK government cares about the death penalty because:

“It affects British Nationals – there are a number of British Nationals who have been sentenced to death and others awaiting trial for a crime which may carry the death penalty.”

The fact that several British citizens are currently being held on Death Row in the US makes it even more imperative that swift action is taken to stop commercial interests taking precedence over human life.

On a positive note the number of executions in the US fell to 46 in 2010, compared with 52 in 2009.

However there are still 3,261 people on death row in the United States and 64 per cent of Americans said they supported the death penalty in a recent Gallup poll.

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