Monday, June 21, 2010

News coverage from South Korea

From today's edition of The Hankyoreh, a Korean news publication, "U.S. murder victims' families remain opposed to the death penalty":

U.S. civic organization MVFHR visited S. Korea to continue their call to end the death penalty

Representatives of U.S. civic organization Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights (MVFHR), sit down to speak with relatives of murder victims in South Korea at the Catholic Adjustment Center, June 20.

As soon as Bud Welch, the 71-year-old President of the Board of Directors for the U.S. group Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights (MVFHR), sat down for an interview on Saturday, he took out a photograph of his daughter Julie Marie. Some 167 people lost their lives in the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building, and Julie was among the victims. As recently as when the U.S. president and attorney general declared in the wake of the incident that they would examine plans for executing those responsible, Welch believed that the death penalty was an appropriate punishment given his own pain and suffering.

Even amid that suffering, however, he controlled his rage. He collected his emotions by telling himself that executing those responsible would not bring his daughter back. And he openly objected to the decision at the time to execute the terrorist responsible.

“The death penalty is about vengeance and hatred, and that vengeance and hatred is what causes other bombings,” Welch explained.

After his ten-year-old son Jeffrey was slain in 1997, Robert Curley, 55, was enraged enough to lead a campaign to revive the death penalty in the U.S. state of Massachusetts. When he woke up every morning, he vowed that he would beat the killer to death if he ever found him. It was some time afterward that his ideas began to change and things began to appear different. Today, he believes the death penalty is not perfect.

“In the U.S., whether people are executed or not depends on money and race,” said Curley. “What changed me was the fact that the death penalty is a flawed system, neither perfect nor equal.”

MVFHR, established in 2004 by people like Welch and Curley who have lived with the pain of losing their loved ones to murder, has the overarching goal of the abolition of the death penalty. The name of its newsletter is “Article 3,” referring to the article in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights that includes the words “Everyone has the right to life.” The date of MVFHR’s establishment was Dec. 10, World Human Rights Day. Its members believe that the response to a violation of human rights, murder, must not be another violation of human rights, execution.

The members of the organization include not only those who lost their loved ones to murder but also family members of death row prisoners. Welch said that the father of Timothy McVeigh, the culprit in the Oklahoma City bombing, was also a victim like himself. “On Jun. 11, 2001, the day the death sentence was carried out, his father and I developed something in common,” Welch said. “The ways were different, but we both lost our sons.”

MVFHR’s members travel the country and relate their experiences under the conviction that they must end the death penalty everywhere in the world in the name of the victims.

On Saturday, they made their first visit to South Korea, at the invitation of the South Korean chapter of Amnesty International and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea’s Committee for Justice and Peace. On Sunday, they met with “Haemil,” an association of family members of murder victims in South Korea, and on Monday they are scheduled to visit the National Human Rights Commission of Korea and deliver a talk to the public entitled “Do Not Kill in Our Name.” Welch said it was encouraging that the death penalty has not been enforced in South Korea for the past thirteen years, and disappointing that there have been recent calls to carry out death sentences once again.

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