Press Release

IACHR expresses its profound concern for the reinstatement of the death penalty at the federal level in the United States

August 15, 2019

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its profound concern for the reinstatement of the death penalty at the federal level in the United States. The IACHR reiterates the recommendations it made in “The Death Penalty and the Inter-American Human Rights System: From Restrictions to Abolition”, a report which seeks to eliminate the death penalty or, failing that, to implement moratoriums on executions as a step toward gradual abolition.

On July 25, 2019, the Attorney General of the United States announced that he will resume the death penalty at the federal level after 16 years without executions. He also announced that the Department of Justice had planned the executions of 5 individuals deprived of liberty, Lezmond Mitchell, Daniel Lewis Lee, Wesley Ira Purkey, Alfred Bourgeois, and Dustin Lee Honken, that were condemned to death and had exhausted their appeals and that are currently being detained in Terre Haute, Indiana. The IACHR calls attention to the fact that, on July 2, 2017, it granted precautionary measures in favor of Lezmond Mitchell, requesting that the United States take measures to preserve his life while the Commission investigated the allegations contained in his petition on the alleged violation of rights recognized in the American Declaration. The IACHR reiterates that the breach of precautionary measures seriously violates the international obligations of the United States given that it is detrimental to the effectiveness of the Commission’s procedures.

For decades, the IACHR has targeted the death penalty as a crucial human rights challenge. Although the majority of the OAS member states have abolished capital punishment, a substantial minority maintain it in law and in practice. In this regard, the IACHR wishes to underline the fact that the United States is currently the only country in the Western Hemisphere that actually executes people who are sentenced to death.
In this context, the Inter-American Commission reminds the State that carrying out a death sentence would not only cause irreparable harm to the person, but it would also mean that the State is not in compliance with the recommendations of the IACHR, and that such a measure is contrary to the fundamental human rights obligations of an OAS member state pursuant to the American Declaration and the Charter of the Organization of Americas States and the instruments deriving from it. In this sense, the IACHR urges the States that have not done so to ratify the American Convention and the Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Additionally, the Commission reiterates the recommendations related to structural changes that the United States must implement in order to guarantee the right to life, including the recommendation to review its laws, procedures and practices to ensure that people accused of capital crimes are tried and, if convicted, sentenced in accordance with the rights established in the American Declaration.

“The IACHR has noted that the death penalty results in the inhuman treatment that characterizes being permanently held on death row, the risk of executing innocent people, and the arbitrariness and injustice with which people are sentenced to the death penalty”, said Commissioner Joel Hernández, Rapporteur for the Rights of People Deprived of Liberty and for the Prevention and Combating of Torture.

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. 201/19