Press Release

IACHR Urges the United States to Stay the Execution of Lezmond Mitchell

August 25, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urges the United States of America to stay the execution of Lezmond M. Mitchell, which is scheduled to take place on August 26, 2020, and to grant him effective relief. The United States is subject to the international obligations derived from the Charter of the Organization of American States (OAS) and the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man since it joined the OAS in 1951. Accordingly, the IACHR urges the United States to fully respect its international human rights obligations.

On April 3, 2017, the IACHR received a petition and request for precautionary measures alleging the international responsibility of the United States for the violation of the rights of Lezmond Mitchell, a member of the Navajo Nation, who is on federal death row. According to the information received, Mr. Mitchell is the only Native American on federal death row. On July 2, 2017, the IACHR granted precautionary measures and requested that the United States refrain from executing Mr. Mitchell until the Commission decides on the merits of his individual petition. On August 24, 2020, the IACHR published Admissibility and Merits Report No. 211/20 in which it concluded that the United States was responsible for violating Lezmond Mitchell’s rights to life, a fair trial, protection from arbitrary arrest, and due process of law.

This case represents the only time, in the history of the modern death penalty, that the United States Government has sought the death penalty despite the objection of a Native American tribe when the criminal conduct in question was committed on tribal land and involved tribal members. In addition to the right to life and applicable international standards against the imposition of the death penalty, the IACHR also stresses the right of indigenous peoples to the protection of their cultural identity and to self-determination under inter-American and Universal human rights standards.

The IACHR noted that Mr. Mitchell was not sentenced to death for the count of murder given that the Federal Death Penalty Act (FDPA) recognizes the right for Native American Tribes to object to the application of the death penalty to their members, as part of their right to self-determination. This, however, was circumvented by adding a count of carjacking to Mr. Mitchell’s conviction, which is not part of the offenses covered in the FDPA, but created the avenue for him to be sentenced to death. The Navajo Nation voiced its opposition to Mr. Mitchell’s death sentence because it is counter to its cultural beliefs and traditions. Therefore, the IACHR found that the decision to execute Mr. Mitchell violates the rights to cultural identity and undermines indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination, in addition to violating Mr. Mitchells’ right to a fair trial.

The IACHR urges the United States to grant Lezmond Mitchell effective relief, including the review of his trial and sentence in accordance with guarantees of fair trail and due process. Taking into account the sovereign decision of the Navajo Nation against the use of the death penalty, if a new trial results in conviction, the Commission requests that the sentence be commuted. The IACHR urges the United States to not execute Lezmond Mitchell as it would constitute a serious violation of his right to life established in Article I of the American Declaration, and would contravene its international human rights obligations.

The Commission also urges the United States to respect the sovereign decision of the Navajo Nation, and other Native American Nations, against the use of the death penalty regarding crimes committed in their territories. Further, given the violations of the American Declaration in Lezmond Mitchell’s case and in others involving application of the death penalty, the Inter-American Commission also recommends to the United States that it abolishes the federal 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.

No. 203/20