Three men who escaped the death penalty joined forces in New York to campaign for a global abolition of this irreversible punishment.
Each was sentenced to death for a crime they did not commit - and each shares a brutal experience of living on death row. Together, they lived under the shadow of execution for a combined 54 years.
In Uganda, Mpagi Edward Edmary spent 20 years in prison, 18 of those on death row. He flew 18 hours to continue his fight for abolition at the UN headquarters in New York.
Mr Menda, now 81, travelled from Japan. A fervent campaigner, he is one of only four people in Japan who have ever been found innocent on retrial and therefore released from death row.
Ray Krone, from Pennsylvania, was the 100th prisoner on death row in the US to be released after being found innocent since the death sentence was first reintroduced in 1973.
At a panel session at the UN headquarters, hosted by Amnesty International on October 16, the three men gave their compelling personal accounts. Each one reminded the audience, including UN delegates and journalists, how men and women – who are not guilty of the alleged crime – can be sentenced to death as a result of unfair trials, erroneous decisions and human error.
Mpagi Edward Edmary was accused of murdering a man who was later found to be alive and well. Because a doctor had received a bribe to falsely testify that he had carried out a post-mortem on a body, Mr Mpagi and his brother – who was also implicated (and also innocent) – were sentenced to death.
"Life is terrible on death row in Uganda," recounted Mr Edmary in the UN chamber. "No one was ever given any notice that they would be executed. Each time, we were taken by complete surprise. We lived in complete fear of any unusual activity from the wardens."
Through his family's persistence and determination to clear his name, Mr Edmary was finally granted his freedom by a nine-person presidential committee in 2000, after years of facing each day with the fear that he could be executed.
Sakae Menda was charged with murdering two people. He gave an extraordinary account of how through his own persistence to obtain a retrial he was eventually released. After six retrials and 34 years and 6 months in prison, Mr Menda was acquitted of charges and released in July 1983.
"During my interrogation, investigators were divided into three teams, taking turns to interrogate me," said Mr Menda. "Through coercion, extortion, leading questions and brutal force, they were determined to elicit a confession."
"On March 23, 1950, [the judge] rendered the court's decision sentencing me to death, with a trace of a smile. During my imprisonment, I thought hard about the death penalty," continued Mr Menda. "During this time I saw off many death row inmates to their end. I saw off 56 inmates... and this is only those I remember."
Ray Krone vividly recounted how he was an innocent man on whom a waitress in a bar in Arizona had a crush. The waitress was murdered and he became the prime suspect of the murder case, being found guilty and then ultimately being sentenced to death – all for a crime which he did not commit. Eventually after two trials and then DNA testing that confirmed his innocence, Ray Krone was released from jail.
"What happened to me can happen to anyone," said Ray. "It's not enough to know that you're innocent as I did. Before I knew it I was being sentenced to death for a crime which I did not do."
The three men spoke with calmness, authority and tenacity, appealing to the delegates at the well-attended event to support the call for a UN resolution.
Edward Edmary reaffirmed his opinion about the death penalty after the event: "The death penalty is not a punishment. A punishment is intended to reform. By killing someone you are denying them the chance to reform."
It is time for UN member states to end this form of punishment by taking the first step to call for a global moratorium on executions in November 2007.