Press Release

IACHR Condemns Resumed Use of the Death Penalty at the Federal Level in the United States after a 17-Year Lapse

June 26, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the announcement that capital punishment would be resumed at the federal level after not being applied since March 2003. In the IACHR’s view, this punishment constitutes a serious violation of the human rights of persons on death row. The IACHR calls once more for the death penalty to be abolished or, failing that, for moratoriums on executions to be implemented as a step toward gradual abolition.

According to a press release from the Department of Justice dated June 15, 2020, the Attorney General of the United States directed the Federal Bureau of Prisons to schedule the executions of four persons sentenced to death, beginning July 13, 2020. The press release in question also states that further executions will be scheduled at a later date. The individuals who will be executed in the following weeks are: Daniel Lewis Lee, on July 13; Wesley Ira Purkey, on July 15; Dustin Lee Honken on July 17; and Keith Dwayne Nelson, on August 28. These executions will take place at US Penitentiary Terre Haute, Indiana.

The IACHR has been targeting the death penalty as a critical human rights challenge for decades. Although most OAS member states have abolished capital punishment, it continues to exist in a substantial minority of these states. However, the IACHR wishes to underline that the United States is the only country in the Western Hemisphere that currently executes people who are sentenced to death.

The IACHR has noted that its main concerns in connection with the use of the death penalty are the risk of executing innocent people, the arbitrariness and unfairness with which people are sentenced to the death penalty, and the fact that being held on death row constitutes inhuman treatment. In relation to this, the IACHR wishes to reiterate the recommendation made in the report The Death Penalty and the Inter-American Human Rights System: From Restrictions to Abolition, which seeks to abolish the death penalty or, failing that, to implement moratoriums on executions as a step toward gradual abolition.

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. 149/20