United States Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination Death Penalty July 2014

The Advocates for Human Rights, in collaboration with the Greater Caribbean for Life and the Puerto Rican Coalition against the Death Penalty, submitted a shadow report to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination for its August 2014 review of the United States of America. This report details the united States' international human rights obligations--especially with respect to racial and ethnic minorities--pertaining to the use of the death penalty.

Currently, 32 U.S. states, the U.S. federal government, and the U.S. military retain the death penalty, making the United States one of only 58 countries that retain the death penalty. Since the Committee last reviewed the United States' human rights record in 2008, four states have abolished the death penalty—Maryland (2013), Connecticut (2012), Illinois (2011), and New Mexico (2009). Yet during that same time period, 247 inmates were executed nationwide, and 116 of those executed—more than 46 percent of the total—were non-white, including seven foreign nationals. This fact highlights a troubling trend in the application of the death penalty in the United States: it disproportionately affects minorities in at least five distinct ways:

1. Racial Bias
The race of the victim and defendant both affect the likelihood of a person being charged and sentenced to death. African Americans are over-represented on death row.

2. Wrongful Convictions
Since 1973, 144 people have been exonerated from death row, and at least 10 individuals have been executed despite strong evidence of their innocence. Minorities are disproportionately represented among exonerees.

3. Failure to Notify Foreign Nationals of Their Consular Notification Rights
Officials fail to provide detained foreign nationals with timely notification of their right to contact their consular officials regarding their arrest. The United States, which is a state party to the Vienna Convention on Consulary Relations, is obligated to provide such notification. Moreover, the United States has failed to review and reconsider convictions of foreign nationals who did not receive the requisite consular notification.

4. Lethal Injection Protocol Experimentation and Secrecy
States are increasingly exploring the use of secretive sources of experimental lethal injection protocols. The prevailing racial discrimination in the application of the death penalty means this secrecy and experimentation falls disproportionately on racial minorities.

5. Aggressive Death Penalty Prosecutions in Puerto Rico
Federal prosecutors have consistently, agressively, and disproportionately sought the death penalty in Puerto Rico, even though it is an abolitionist territory. All 25 defendants in capital cases in Puerto Rico have been from ethnic minorities and have been tried by juries composed exclusively of English speakers.