Press Release

IACHR Condemns Execution of Lezmond Mitchell, Only Native American on Federal Death Row in the United States

September 24, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the judicial execution of Lezmond M. Mitchell, which took place on August 26, 2020, at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, in violation of his fundamental rights and in defiance of the recommendations issued by the Commission in the Admissibility and Merits Report published in his case. Mr. Mitchell, a member of the Navajo Nation, was the only Native American man on federal death row.

On July 2, 2017, the IACHR granted precautionary measures in favor of Lezmond Mitchell, requesting that the United States take measures to preserve his life until the Commission decided on the allegations raised in his petition.

On August 24, 2020, the Commission adopted 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, fair trial, protection from arbitrary arrest, and due process of law, in respect of the criminal proceedings that led to the imposition of the death penalty. The crime for which Mr. Mitchell was sentenced was committed on tribal land and involved tribal members. The Navajo Nation and the relatives of the victims voiced their opposition to the application of the death penalty because it is counter to their cultural beliefs and traditions. Despite this, and the recommendation of the local prosecutor's office not to seek capital punishment, the Attorney General instructed prosecutors to seek the death penalty.

The IACHR found that the criminal proceedings that led to Mr. Mitchell’s conviction and sentence to the death penalty violated the rights to cultural identity and undermined indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination, in addition to violating Mr. Mitchells’ right to a fair trial. In the report the IACHR recommended to the United States that it provide Mr. Mitchell with an effective remedy, including the review of his trial and sentence in accordance with guarantees of fair trial and due process.

The Inter-American Commission declares that the United States, in executing Lezmond Mitchell pursuant to the criminal proceedings at issue in his case, has committed a grave and irreparable violation of the right to life under Article I of the American Declaration. The IACHR deplores the failure of the United States to comply with Recommendation No. 1 of Admissibility and Merits Report No. 211/20.

The Commission urges the United States to comply with the non-repetition measures recommended in the report. In particular, the United States should ensure that the sovereign decision of the Navajo Nation, and other Native American Nations, against the use of the death penalty in connection with crimes committed by Native Americans in their territory, be respected.

The IACHR also reiterates the recommendation issued that the United States should abolish 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. 229/20