Human Rights Violations in the United States

By Susan McClelland | 1999-03-01 12:00:00

As Joseph Stanley Faulder peers at the T.V. camera from behind a curtain of metal and thick, impenetrable glass, his nervous stare belies a complacency with a fate bequeathed by the state of Texas. His peppered hair and overweight build do not give an impression of Faulder, a 61-year-old mechanic and grandfather from Jasper, Alberta, as a convicted murderer sentenced to death. Yet the photos of Faulder, who is facing his eighth execution date in Huntsville, Texas, also tell another tale - that of a prisoner denied the human rights the United States expects other countries to observe.

In an interview with CBC's Fifth Estate in November, Faulder said, "It's a very cold blooded system. In fact, I'd say that the death penalty itself is more cold blooded than any other form of murder there is. It is state-sanctioned murder."

Amnesty International, the Nobel-prize winning human rights organization that takes action against some of the gravest violations of people's civil and political rights, has echoed these same sentiments for many years. Yet in October, Amnesty intensified their campaign against the United States by publishing a 151-page report entitled, "Rights For All - Human Rights in the United States of America," calling on the United States to end police brutality, the torture and abuse of prisoners and asylum-seekers, and to abolish the death penalty.

Consular rights and the right to a fair trial

The report, which took one year to compile and highlights specific cases of human rights abuses, also includes Amnesty's criticism of the U.S.'s half-hearted adoption and execution of international conventions, including Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which calls for arresting authorities to inform detained foreign nationals of the right to contact their consulate. For many Canadians, it is the Faulder case that brings this report home.

"The case of Stan is a classic example of the pattern of human rights violations that Amnesty has detected in the United States," said Mark Warren, U.S. coordinator with the Canadian section of Amnesty International. "Mr. Faulder was deprived of his treaty-based rights to consular assistance - a right which the U.S. State Department insists upon whenever an American is arrested abroad.

"Amnesty is also deeply concerned over the inadequacy of trial procedures in the Texas death penalty cases. As is so often true, Faulder's trial and sentencing were grossly unfair and failed to meet minimum international standards protecting the rights of all defendants. It is not that we are saying no crime was committed. It is a question of a fair and unfair trial. It is matter of life and death."

Faulder was convicted twice for the 1975 murder of a wealthy Texas woman, Inez Phillips. His first conviction was overturned when an appeals court ruled that his original statement had been obtained illegally. In 1981, Faulder was tried a second time and sentenced to death. Yet in this trial the prosecution's lawyers and the testimony of its witnesses were paid for by Phillips's son. Evidence was also later brought to an appeals court that the witnesses were also involved in the crime. The appeal was denied.

Yet what may have brought last December's temporary stay of execution was that, for 15 years, U.S. authorities had failed to inform Faulder that he could seek assistance from the Canadian consulate. In 1992, when the consulate was contacted, they gathered evidence and witnesses confirming that Faulder suffered from a mental disability that could have impaired his judgment at the time of the crime and at the time of his arrest.

"This is a violation of an important international treaty which may have prejudiced a right to a fair trial," said Sophie Lejendre, a spokesperson for Canada's Foreign Affairs.

According to Corrections Canada last spring, there are about 1,467 Canadians serving sentences in the United States. Two Canadians remain on death row - Michael Kelly Robert and Ronald Allen. It was when the Canadian government became aware of Faulder's case in 1992 that Amnesty officials began investigating U.S. violations of the convention.

Under the convention, which the United States ratified in 1969, consular officers have the right to converse with and arrange legal representation for any citizen of their country accused of a crime. Just as they must read prisoners their Miranda rights, arresting officers must inform all foreign detainees of this right. Yet, despite a box on most arrest forms for authorities to fill in a prisoner's citizenship, most state and federal institutions are unaware of who is a foreign national.

"We are not denying that there is a problem," said John Foarde, an attorney with the U.S. State Department's Office of the Assistant Legal Advisor for Consular Affairs. "We are making every attempt to get the word out that arresting authorities must inform foreign nationals of this right."

According to Amnesty officials, of the 72 foreign citizens, representing 22 nationalities on death row in the United States, in virtually every instance, their rights under the convention were denied. Yet abroad, the U.S. government has used the convention to guarantee the protection of their own.

"The U.S. federal and state governments are giant bureaucracies and so the problem lies primarily with communication between the two," said Bernard Oxman, an international law professor at the University of Miami. "But if this were happening to Americans in foreign countries, you can bet the United States would be jumping up and down, calling for all sorts of measures to end this treatment."

Clemency or flippancy?

Amnesty's report on the United States also details unfair clemency application procedures in the state of Texas. According to Amnesty, of the 37 people executed in Texas in 1997, not one member of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, the organization solely responsible for making clemency recommendations, voted for commutation of a prisoner's sentence in any of the 16 clemency petitions.

Since the death penalty was reinstated in Texas in 1976, the Board has only once convened a clemency hearing, even when there was overwhelming evidence that an inmate was innocent. Amnesty reports that the 18-member Board, appointed by Texas governor George Bush Jr. for a four-year term, keeps no minutes, no record of the voting process, often receives clemency petitions by fax and then faxes back their decisions independently, three hours before an inmate's execution. Faulder's application for clemency was denied - despite an application for clemency, appeals from the Canadian government, Amnesty, and other human rights groups to Govenor Bush and Madeline Albright, U.S. Secretary of State.

"The reports we get suggest the [board's] way of operation is an extra-ordinarily flippant way of dealing with a person's life," said Roger Clark, secretary general of the Canadian section of Amnesty International.

According to the report, 38 states currently have the death penalty; more than 350 people have been executed since 1990; and more than 3,300 others are on death row. In 24 states, people can be sentenced to death for crimes they committed when they were children. Currently, there are 70 juvenile offenders on death row in the U. S. Two juvenile offenders were executed last year despite the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights banning the use of the death penalty for crimes committed when under the age of 18.

Discrimination and Abuse

The report also says that though black and white people are the victims of violent crime in roughly equal numbers, 82 per cent of people executed since 1977 have been convicted of killing white victims. African Americans "make up just 12 per cent of the U.S. population, but 42 per cent of those on the nation's death rows," said the report.

The report also says that in states that have "capital punishment, there were 1,838 officials (mostly district attorneys) responsible for deciding whether or not to seek the death penalty in individual cases. Of these officials, 1,794 were white."

"Frequently human rights in the United States is a story of two nations, one rich and one poor, one white and one black, one of men and the other of women," Amnesty International Secretary General Pierre Sane wrote in the report. "It is time for the U.S. government to put an end to its selective approach to human rights, and to start to adjust its conduct and legislation to conform with international human principles."

"Rights for all - Human Rights in the Unites States of America" also documents:

According to Amnesty officials, the organization has mobilized its forces world-wide to force the United States to address these issues. As Faulder said : "Down here they want to be tough on crime...But then they don't know how it's adjudicated...It's capricious, it's racist, it' name it...

"I think more good will come out of it in the long run, regardless of which know, whether I die or not, something is going to come out of it. I think that my story alone will do something to change the system down here. Even if it's just a little change. A little is better than nothing at all."

Susan McClelland is a reporter with Macleans.

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1999

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1999, page 23. Some rights reserved.

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