Press Release

25 Years after the Adoption of the Protocol, the IACHR Urges States to Abolish the Death Penalty or Take Steps toward its Abolition

June 8, 2015

Washington, D.C. - Twenty-five years after the Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty was adopted in Asunción, Paraguay—on June 9, 1990—the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) welcomes the progress that has been made over the years in this area. The Commission urges the Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS) that have the death penalty to abolish it or to impose a moratorium on its use as a step toward abolishing it. The Commission also urges those States that have not done so to ratify this Protocol.

The Protocol to Abolish the Death Penalty adopted a quarter century ago has been ratified by Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, the Dominican Republic, Uruguay, and Venezuela. The IACHR calls on Bolivia, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Peru, and Suriname to ratify the Protocol as well. The Commission also calls on those countries that have not ratified the American Convention on Human Rights to do so and to consider ratifying this Protocol.

The countries of the Americas have a long tradition of abolishing capital punishment. In 1863, Venezuela was the first country in the world to abolish the death penalty for all crimes, and Costa Rica became the third country to do so, in 1877. On March 3, 2015, Suriname joined the group of countries in which the death penalty has been abolished.

While the majority of the OAS Member States have abolished capital punishment, a substantial minority still have it in place. The United States is currently the only country in the Americas that carries out executions of individuals sentenced to death. However, the IACHR observes that the implementation of the death penalty in the United States has been gradually decreasing. With the decision adopted in May of this year by the state of Nebraska, the death penalty has now been abolished in 19 states and the District of Columbia.

The inter-American human rights system has played an important role in the establishment of international norms related to the application of the death penalty. The IACHR was the first international human rights body to evaluate the consequences of the mandatory imposition of the death penalty on the exercise of human rights, and it concluded that mandatory punishment by death is incompatible with the rights to life, humane treatment, and due process. In the wake of decisions by the human rights system, most of the countries in the English-speaking Caribbean have abolished mandatory death sentences. The Commission urges Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago to abolish the mandatory death penalty so as to completely eliminate it in the region.

The regional instruments for the protection of human rights do not prohibit the imposition of the death penalty per se, but they establish specific restrictions and prohibitions with regard to its application. The American Convention on Human Rights establishes the provisions required to limit its application, with the goal of reducing capital punishment until it is eventually eliminated. In this regard, there is a worldwide trend toward the abolition of the death penalty, which can be seen in recent developments in this area at the United Nations, in regional systems for the protection of human rights, and in the sphere of international criminal law.

The Inter-American Commission reiterates the recommendation it made in its report titled “The Death Penalty in the Inter-American Human Rights System: From Restrictions to Abolition,” published in 2012, that the States impose a moratorium on executions as a step toward the gradual disappearance of the death penalty.

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. 062/15