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Tuesday, April 15, 2003
Fuzzy math
Did you know that Bill Gates and I control, between us, 97% of the operating system market share -- if you don't count Linux? That's about the logic in Amnesty International's latest report on the state of the death penalty in the world.
As in previous years, the vast majority of executions worldwide were carried out in a tiny handful of countries. In 2002, 81 per cent of all known executions took place in China, Iran and the USA. In China, limited and incomplete records available to Amnesty International at year end indicated that at least 1,060 people were executed, but the true figure was believed to be much higher. At least 113 executions were carried out in Iran. Seventy-one people were executed in the USA.
So, 81% of executions took place in China, Iran, and the US -- of which only 4.7% were in the US. Lumping them together is designed to hide the fact that China carried out virtually all of the executions listed.

But wait -- as Amnesty admits, this only counts known cases; "the true figures were certainly higher." For instance, AI's 2002 report mentions Iraq, Cuba, and Syria exactly zero times. Combined. As far as I can tell from the report, Amnesty lists only legal executions, ignoring government-sanctioned extrajudicial killings. Now, there may be some good reason for tallying things in this way -- but I can't figure out what it is. Amnesty International, according to their website, "is a worldwide campaigning movement that works to promote internationally recognized human rights." Given that, it seems pretty strange to issue a report focusing on the execution of murderers convicted via due process while ignoring mass killings. Of course, AI can prioritize however they choose, and for some reason they have chosen to attack the death penalty in all its forms, under all circumstances. But it seems to me that if they can't tell the difference between the death penalty in the American judicial system and executions in Iraq, then there's really no reason to take AI seriously.

Amnesty has had this problem for a long time; either out of a misguided desire to be evenhanded regardless of appropriateness, or out a complete moral blindness, they condemn Western liberal democracies for isolated cases of police brutality as much as they do brutal dictatorships that murder dissidents. In my mind -- and in the mind of others I've spoken with -- it just trivializes the real cases when lumped in with the silly ones.

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