Press Release

IACHR Calls on a Moratorium in the Application of the Death Penalty

August 3, 2012

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) calls on a moratorium in the application of the death penalty in the States of the region that still apply it, on occasion of the publication today of the report "The Death Penalty in the Inter-American Human Rights System: From Restrictions to Abolition." The report seeks to publicize the standards developed regarding the restrictive application of the death penalty, as it has been examined by the organs of the Inter-American human rights system in the nine States of the region during the last 15 year: Barbados, Cuba, Guatemala, Guyana, Granada, Jamaica, Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States.

Taking into account these standards and developments in the region, and in light of the objective of gradually eliminating the death penalty in the inter-American system, the Commission urges the OAS Member States that still have the death penalty to abolish it or, at least, to impose a moratorium to its application. In addition, the report recommends the States to ratify the Protocol to the American Convention to Abolish the Death Penalty; to refrain from any measure that would expand the application of the death penalty or reintroduce it; to take any measures necessary to ensure compliance with the strictest standards of due process in capital cases; to adopt any steps required to ensure that domestic legal standards conform to the heightened level of review applicable in death penalty cases, and to ensure full compliance with decisions of the Inter-American Commission and Court, and specifically with decisions concerning individual death penalty cases and precautionary and provisional measures.

The regional instruments of protection of human rights do not prohibit per se the imposition of the death penalty, but they establish restrictions and specific prohibitions regarding its application. For example, without going so far as to abolish the death penalty, the American Convention imposes restrictions designed to delimit strictly its application and scope, in order to reduce the application of the penalty to bring about its gradual disappearance. In this regard, the IACHR notes that there exists a global tendency towards the abolition of the death penalty that makes itself evident in the recent developments in this matter at the United Nations, regional systems for the protection of human rights and in international criminal law.

In the report, the Commission highlights some advances related to the imposition of the death penalty in the region in recent years. Of particular importance have been the advances related to the mandatory imposition of the death penalty, that is, when this is imposed after a conviction for a crime without the opportunity for presenting or considering mitigating circumstances. As a consequence of the development of inter-American standards that established that the death penalty contravenes the American Convention and the American Declaration, as well as of the interaction between the inter-American organs and the judicial bodies of the Commonwealth Caribbean, among other factors, there has been progress in the elimination of the mandatory aspect of the death penalty in the majority of the countries of the Caribbean. The IACHR expects that additional progress will be made in this direction until its repeal in all the countries of the region.

Furthermore, important and worrisome challenges persist regarding the lack of compliance of the States. In particular, the IACHR highlights that the OAS Member States have executed in the last 15 years persons sentenced to death in defiance of precautionary measures granted by the Commission or provisional measures granted by the Court in the context of cases or petitions where serious violations to due process were alleged, among others. When this happens, the effectiveness of the process before the Commission is undermined, causing irreparable harm to those persons, in violation of the international human rights obligations of the States.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 100/12