Press Release

IACHR Condemns Execution of Russell Bucklew in Missouri, United States of America

October 7, 2019

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the judicial execution of Russell Bucklew, which took place on October 1st, 2019 in Missouri, United States, in violation of his fundamental rights and in defiance of the recommendations issued by the Commission in the Merits Report published in his case.

On May 20, 2014, the IACHR granted precautionary measures in favor of Russell Bucklew, requesting that the United States refrain from executing him pending the Commission’s investigation of the allegations raised in his petition.

The IACHR adopted Admissibility Report No. 54/14 on July 21, 2014. On May 10, 2018, the Commission adopted Merits Report No. 71/18 in which it concluded that the United States was responsible for violating Russell Bucklew’s rights to life, liberty and security of the person, to a fair trial, to protection from arbitrary arrest, and to due process of law. Further, the Commission established that the amount of time that he had spent on death row, over 20 years, greatly exceeded the length of time that international and domestic courts have characterized as cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. Finally, the IACHR recommended to the United States that Mr. Bucklew’s sentence be commuted, that he be transferred out of death row, and that the State ensure that his conditions of detention be compatible with his human dignity.

On September 24, 2019, the IACHR held a public hearing regarding the case of Russell Bucklew between the United States and the petitioner, during its 173rd Period of Sessions. At the hearing, the Commission called on the State as a matter of urgency to comply with the recommendations of the IACHR and to commute the sentence of Mr. Russell Bucklew.

The Inter-American Commission declares that the United States, in executing Russell Bucklew has committed a serious and irreparable violation of the fundamental rights to life and not to receive cruel, infamous, or unusual punishment protected by Articles I and XXVI of the American Declaration. The IACHR deplores the failure of the United States and the state of Missouri to comply with Recommendation No. 1 of Merits Report No. 71/18, an act which constitutes a violation of the State’s international human rights obligations under the Charter of the Organization of American States (OAS) and related instruments as an OAS Member State.

The Commission urges the United States to comply with the non-repetition measures recommended in the merits report, specifically, that it should review its laws, procedures and practices to ensure that persons sentenced to the death penalty have access to effective judicial remedies to challenge the possible impact of the method of execution on their fundamental rights, and that it should adopt a moratorium on the execution of persons sentenced to death.

The Inter-American Commission has dealt with the death penalty as a crucial human rights challenge for decades. While a majority of OAS Member States have abolished capital punishment, a substantial minority retains it. In this regard, the Commission notes that the United States is currently the only country in the region that is carrying out executions under the death penalty. The Commission further notes with concern the announcement of the Federal Government of the United States on July 25, 2019, to resume the execution of federal inmates on death row. In this sense, the IACHR reiterates the recommendation made in its report “The Death Penalty in the Inter-American Human Rights System: From Restrictions to Abolition”, that 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 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.


* This is a corrected version of the press release originally issued. The correction was made on the same date that it was issued.

No. 249/19