18 March 2010

'Assign death penalty to the dustbin of history'

Highlighting the continuing use of the death penalty in the United States and more than 50 other countries around the world, the Chair of the University of Essex’s Human Rights Centre will be giving a talk in New York next week.

Professor Sir Nigel Rodley will speak on 23 March at a book signing by Wivenhoe-based artist Robert Priseman of No Human Way to Kill. The book, published in conjunction with the Human Rights Centre, features 12 drawings which examine the different methods of execution used around the modern world under law. It contains a concluding essay by Sir Nigel.

‘The Human Rights Centre considers that Robert Priseman's work supports the United Nations’ declared goal of achieving abolition in all countries’, said Sir Nigel.

‘The world is fast coming to realize that it is irrational to speak of states' duty to protect the right to life and ban cruel punishments and at the same time allow them to kill people in cold blood.’

Professor John Packer, Director of the Human Rights Centre, added: ‘Robert Priseman has struck the heart of the matter through his hauntingly precise etchings and paintings. You see the technical instruments, and you feel the horror. There can be no humanity in subjecting fellow human beings to such treatment.’

In less than four decades the world has moved from being one in which abolitionist countries were a negligible minority to being the clear majority. Add to the list those countries that do not apply the penalty in practice, and that leaves only a third of the world’s states retaining the penalty. America, China, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan account for more than 90 per cent of executions in the world today.

Professor Packer added: ‘They must be assigned to the dustbin of history. Priseman knows this and compels the viewer to know as well.’

An exhibition of Robert Priseman’s paintings and drawings of methods of execution, which have recently been shown at the University of Essex, started this week at New York’s White Box Gallery and runs until 30 March. The exhibition has been organised in association with Colchester contemporary visual arts organisation firstsite. The book signing and Sir Nigel’s talk take place from 7pm on 23 March.

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