Press Release

IACHR Welcomes the Moratorium on Executions of Death Row Inmates in the US State of California

March 20, 2019

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) welcomes the executive order granting a moratorium on executions for death row inmates in the US state of California.

According to publicly available reports, the moratorium issued by California’s governor on March 13, 2019 benefits 737 people who are currently on death row in that state. Although California has not held any executions since 2006, it is the US state with the largest number of death row inmates—a quarter of the total number of people awaiting executions of the death penalty in the United States as a whole. According to information the Commission has had access to, this executive order also ends the protocol on lethal injections that had been planned in the state, and it provides for the execution chamber at San Quentin state prison to be shut down. The IACHR notes that this executive order does not change any existing sentences or imply the release of death row inmates.

For decades, the Inter-American Commission has identified the death penalty as a crucial challenge for human rights. While most Member States of the Organization of American States have abolished the death penalty, a significant minority still hold on to such punishment. The Commission notes that the United States is the only country in the Americas that currently executes convicts who have been sentenced to death. In this context, the IACHR stresses the recommendation held in its report The Death Penalty in the Inter-American Human Rights System: From Restrictions to Abolition, aimed at ending such punishment or, at least, at imposing a moratorium on executions, as a step towards gradual abolition.

“There is a global trend towards eliminating the death penalty that is reflected in recent developments on the subject within the United Nations and in regional human rights systems,” said Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay, the IACHR’s Rapporteur for the United States. “In this context, the moratorium that has been adopted by the Californian government is in line with the international trend, as well as constituting major precedent for other states in the country where the death penalty remains in force,” she added.

“One of the IACHR’s main concerns in the context of the application of the death penalty is that the long wait for execution, known as the 'death row phenomenon', amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” said Commissioner Joel Hernández, the IACHR’s Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty and for the Prevention of and Fight Against Torture. “Consequently, the fact that those inmates stop being on death row is, in itself, important progress in terms of protecting the rights of people who are under the custody of the State,” Commissioner Hernández added.

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 and to defend 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. 070/19