Associated Press, Feb. 26, 2003
ROME – A U.S. group that seeks to halt the death penalty and life sentences for juveniles took its cause to Pope John Paul II on Wednesday, seeking a Vatican declaration that condemns the prosecution of children as adults.
The use of the death penalty for crimes committed by people younger than 18 is prohibited under international human rights law, yet some countries still execute child offenders. Such executions are few compared to the total number of executions in the world. Their significance goes beyond their number and calls into question the commitment of the executing states to respect international law.
Since 1990 Amnesty International has documented executions of child offenders in seven countries: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the USA and Yemen. At least two of these countries, Pakistan and Yemen, have since changed their laws to exclude the practice. The country which has carried out the greatest number of known executions is the USA.
The Rev. Thomas Masters of Under Our Wings, based in Riviera Beach, Fla., had a brief meeting with the pope following the pontiff’s weekly general audience.
Masters said he asked John Paul to help stop execution and life sentences for people who commit crimes as children.
“I told the pope everything I could tell him in a moment,” Masters said.
Masters, who led a 34-person mission to Rome, became a juvenile advocate when a member of his congregation, 13-year-old Nathaniel Brazill, was prosecuted as an adult for fatally shooting a Lake Worth, Fla., teacher in 2000. Brazill was sentenced to 28 years in prison for second-degree murder.
Brazill’s mother, Polly Powell, was part of the Under Our Wings delegation to the Vatican.
John Paul is a strong opponent of the death penalty. The Vatican would not comment Wednesday on a possible declaration.
Some states allow execution of people who committed crimes while younger than 18. Under Our Wings says other countries with similar policies include Iran and Pakistan.