English lawyer, Peter Benenson, first launched Amnesty International in May 1961, when he published an appeal in the London newspaper, The Observer. He called for the general public to be more aware of those around the world who were being imprisoned, tortured, or executed because of their political or religious beliefs (Amnesty International Website. . ., 2002). As currently as this year, in fact, it has been reported that in Saudi Arabia, for example, trials are often held in secret and the scope of the death penalty has been widened to cover adultery, witchcraft, and apostasy as well as violent crimes. Denied lawyers, defendants often do not know they have been sentenced to death until they are led out to be beheaded (Christian Science Monitor, 2002). Benenson's challenge in 1961 was the beginning of a worldwide movement that, as of Amnesty International's most recent count, has grown to over 1,100,000 members and subscribers in more than 150 countries (Amnesty International Website. . .,2002).
Amnesty International's Interest in the Death Penalty
Benenson's first appeal focussed on the rights of the political prisoners who were in danger of being executed due to their beliefs. This set a precedent for Amnesty International to be in opposition to the death penalty in the context of political prisoners from the beginning. Later, however, Amnesty International broadened its stance to include anyone sentenced to death as victims of cruel and inhumane treatment and cited its incompatibility with basic human rights and penological goals for rehabilitation. So, it may be seen that Amnesty International has been concerned with the rights of those who face the death penalty from the very beginning.
Why Amnesty International Opposes the Death Penalty
Besides the historical concern with the plight of political prisoners as well as others who face execution, Amnesty International opposes the death penalty for the following r...