Press Release

IACHR Expresses Concern on Authorization to Use Firing Squads in Utah, USA

April 1, 2015

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expresses its deep concern about the law signed March 23 by Utah Governor Gary Herbert, authorizing the execution of persons sentenced to the death penalty by firing squad.  The Act authorizes execution by firing squad if the drugs for lethal injection are not available.

In recent years, most executions in the United States have been carried out through lethal injection.  Under this new legislation, Utah is the only state to authorize the firing squad as the next alternative in the event lethal injection drugs are not available.  Utah had previously authorized the firing squad as one of several methods a condemned prisoner could elect between; the last person to elect that method was executed in 2010. 

Sources such as the Centre for Information on Death Penalty have reported that death by firing squad, can cause an inhuman, slow and painful death.  In this regard, the Commission reminds the United States of its international obligation not to expose persons within its jurisdiction to cruel and unusual punishment.

The Inter-American Commission has for decades addressed the issue of the death penalty as a crucial challenge in the field of human rights.  Although most Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS) have abolished capital punishment, a sizeable minority maintains the penalty.  In this regard, the Commission notes that the United States is currently the only country in the Western Hemisphere that is actually carrying out executions.

The Commission reiterates the recommendation in its report "The Death Penalty in the Inter-American Human Rights System: From Restrictions to Abolition" published in 2012, that States implement a moratorium on executions as a step towards the gradual abolition of this penalty.  The Commission considers that the adoption of this law is a step backwards.

The Inter-American Commission appreciates that within the United States eighteen States and the District of Columbia have abolished the death penalty (Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin) and that some states have a moratorium imposed by the governor or the courts.  The Commission encourages the State of Utah to follow the path of abolition or moratorium on the death penalty.

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

No. 038/15