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United States - Human Rights Committee - Death Penalty - September 2023

Date: September 11, 2023
Country: United States of America
Type: Intl Mechanism Submission
Issues: Death Penalty
Mechanism: UN Human Rights Committee
Report Type: Shadow/Parallel Report
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The Advocates for Human Rights, together with The World Coalition Against the Death Penaltysubmitted a report on the death penalty to the Human Rights Committee for its 139thsession.This report addresses the United States of America's compliance with its human rights obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights(ICCPR)regarding the death penalty and provides several suggested recommendations to address death penalty issues in the United States.  

The administration of the death penalty continues to put the United States in breach of its obligations under the ICCPR, particularly those relating to the right to life. The United States continues to carry out executions and sentence people to death. On the federal level, while the Department of Justice (DOJ) imposed a federal moratorium on executions, the DOJ is actively seeking the death penalty and defending existing death sentences. On the state level, while states' reliance on capital punishment is declining, a majority of states retain the death penalty and many states still sentence and execute members of racial and ethnic minority groups at a disproportionate rate.  

Lethal injection, which is the primary method of execution in the United States, raises additional human rights concerns. For example, lethal injections often fail when execution teams are unable to set the intravenous line or when the drugs do not have their intended effect. As a result, people being executed may not even be conscious during the reading of the death warrant and may be too incapacitated to say their last words. 

Wrongful convictions continue to be a serious problem in the United States, as some states still allow the imposition of death sentences absent a unanimous verdictThe lack of effective representation also greatly contributes to the risk of wrongful conviction. As the United States often fails to uphold its consular notification and access obligations in capital cases, foreign nationals are particularly vulnerable to wrongful convictions  

The authors of the report propose the following recommendations to the government of the United States: 

  • Abolish the federal death penalty and replace it with a sentence that is fair, proportionate, and consistent with international human rights standards. 

  • Commute the sentences of all persons currently on federal death row.  

  • Establish a de jure moratorium both on federal executions and on federal death sentences, with a view toward abolition. 

  • Create accountability procedures for federal prosecutors who engage in racially discriminatory jury selection. 

  • Prohibit states from imposing a sentence of death in the absence of a unanimous verdict 

  • Prohibit state and federal authorities from carrying out an execution if the person to be executed is not conscious when the death warrant is read or is otherwise unable to make a final statement prior to the execution.  

  • Fully implement the recommendations of the Ad Hoc Committee to Review the Criminal Justice Act as they pertain to providing adequate and adequately funded legal counsel in all capital cases, appeals, and habeas corpus proceedings, including the creation of an independent Defender Commission within the judicial branch that would have the sole authority to set policy and practices related to the provision of federal defense in capital cases.  

  • Adopt legislation to mandate state compliance with the Avena decision.  

  • Ensure that all foreign nationals on federal death row receive the review and reconsideration mandated under Avena