UNITED NATIONS
COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS

Fifty-fifth Session

Agenda Item 11

Civil and Political Rights


Statement of
International Educational Development/ Humanitarian Law Project
made by Zack de la Rocha ("Rage Against the Machine")

DEATH PENALTY IN THE UNITED STATES: THE CASE OF MUMIA ABU-JAMAL

International Educational Development/Humanitarian Law Project accuses the United States of gross violations of human rights in its imposition of the death penalty on minors and mentally retarded. The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights decided that the applicaiton of the death penalty in these circumstances violates jus cogens. Since its opinion against the United States in 1987, the United States has been in contempt of the OAS, as the United States continues to carry out the death penalty on minors and persons with mental retardation.

Our organization rarely brings to the attention of the Commission individual cases, but there are certain political prisoners whose cases warrant our attention. In the United States, Leonard Peltier clearly is a political prisoner, and his continued detention defies international standards. He is currently being denied proper medical attention for serious medical condiitons. We believe his sentence should be commuted, as it was imposed solely on the basis of false evidence.

Mumia Abu-Jamal is the only political prisoner in the United States who faces the death penalty. Mr Abu-Jamal is a prominent journalist from Philadelphia who frequently reported on police brutality. Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo threatened him because of this reporting, most notoriously in a press conference before Mr. Abu-Jamal's arrest, in which he stated that Mr. Abu-Jamal must be silenced.

It is clear that his advocacy for racial equality was a major factor in the imposition of the death penalty when a police officer was killed in Philadelphia in December 1981. Actually, Mr. Abu-Jamal himself was beaten by police officers, and then shot in the incident, when he intervened in a street incident in which the police harassed his brother and another person. At the time of his arrest he had no criminal record, although the F.B.I. had already amassed a 600 page long file by the time he was 15.

His trial in 1982 was nothing short of a travesty. He was denied funds for expert witnesses, and his court-appointed attorney did not interview a single witness before calling them to testify. He tried to represent himself and then was barred from his own trial when he protested what was obviously judicial misconduct. Evidence was witheld from the defense; jurors were excused on the basis of race. He was convicted by the judge who has sentenced more African-American men to death than any other judge in the United States. This is the same judge to whom appeals for rehearing based on unfairness were brought and denied. Six former Philadelphia prosecutors have sworn in court documents that no accused could receive a fair trial in this judge's court.

Perhaps the most absurd allegaiton in this procedure is that Mumia Abu-Jamal confessed to the killing. In fact, two months after the incident, Mr. Abu-Jamal filed police brutality charges. It was only THEN that a police officer "remembered" that Mr. Abu-Jamal had confessed while at the hospital, despite police records that he made no such statement. The report made by the police guard at the hospital where Mr. Abu-Jamal supposedly made this confession says "The Negro male made no comments."

Since his conviction in 1982, Mr. Abu-Jamal has been held 22 hours a day in solitary and denied contact with family. Fellow journalists may no longer interview or photograph him. When "Rage Against the Machine" and three other groups rented Continental Arena in East Rutherford, N.J. for a benefit concert, the Governor of that state regretted that she could not ban this concert, and she encouraged people to boycott. We are pleased that the January 1999 concert was a sell-out success, duplicating an earlier sell-out benefit in 1995 at the Capital Ballroom in Washington, DC.

International Educational Development/Humanitarian Law Project joins President Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, the National Black Police Association of the United States, the European Parliament, the National Lawyers Guild, Salman Rushdie, Wole Soyinka, Elie Wiesel, and hundreds of thousands of petitioners in calling for the release of Mumia Abu-Jamal, and the full compliance of the United States with international human rights norms in the conduct of its criminal justice system.

A dossier of this case is attached to this statement. The Commission should condemn the continued detention and death penalty for Mumia Abu-Jamal in particular and the death penalty in the United States in general.


WESTERN SAHARAN PRISONERS

We also bring to the attention of the Commission the cases of two of the many Saharan people in the occupied areas tortured by Moroccan officials. Omar ould Moulay ould Ahmed and Moulay-Ahmad ould Eslaya ould Salek were arrested on June 9, 1998 and released on June 22, 1998 showing clear signs of torture. Omar now has serious psychological disorders and Moulay-Ahmad is now partially paralyzed. Morocco is impeding both MINURSO and the press from carrying out their functions. Morocco must be condemned and it is imperative that the referendum be carried out as ordered by the United Nations.


ABDULLAH OCALAN

We are very concerned about the conditions of detention of Abdullah Ocalan in Turkey. We join with Lord Avebury, Lord Rea, at least five Nobel laureates, leading members of the parliaments in many country and hundreds of thousands of concerned persons who have signed an international appeal for freedom for Mr. Ocalan and peace in Turkish Kurdisytan. We especially support the call for an international conference on Kurdistan. We consider that the public statement of Mr. Ocalan, issued April 6, 1999, in which he calls for inter alia, maintaining the september 1 cease-fire and the "acceptance and development of the democratic republican system as a basis for the peaceful resolution of all problems" represents a reasonable step towards resolving the Turkey-Kurdish problems.


BOMBING IN YUGOSLAVIA AND KOSOVO

In conclusion we must appeal to the Commission to urge the parties involved to stop the bombings in Yugoslavia and Kosovo and to effect immediate relief for all affected peoples: Kosovan and Serb alike. All concerned parties should reenter the process of dialogue and negotiation as soon as possible.

We are aware that there are press reports of the use of depleted uranium weaponry in both Kosovo and Yugoslavia by NATO forces. If true, then neither the Kosovans nor the Serbs will be able to use the affected lands, and both communities will suffer untold medical catastrophes. Of course this type of weaponry violates humanitarian law norms. To quote Mr. Ingvar Carlson, former Prime Minister of Sweden: "If in our responses we become violators too, in the end we return to a dark time when might alone is right and law comes out of the barrel of a gun."


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