United States Human Rights Committee Death Penalty Oct. 2013

An especially disturbing problem with the use of the death penalty in the United States is the issue of wrongful convictions. In the last 40 years, nearly 150 individuals have been exonerated from death row. The report also documents problems with racial bias in determining who receives the death penalty, noting that although black people make up only 13.1 percent of the population, they constitute 42 percent of the death row population.

Another violation of the ICCPR is the cruel and unusual use of lethal injection as the primary method of execution. With many drug manufacturers declining to sell their products to be used in executions, the penal system is forced to use varying and untested drug combinations. This experimentation is leading to increasing numbers of problematic executions, with the procedure sometimes lasting more than 90 minutes.

The U.S. also fails to uphold international law by failing to provide consular notification for foreign nationals of their right to have their consulate notified of their arrest. This requirement is important because foreigners often struggle with language and cultural barriers that can prevent them from obtaining fair legal representation.

Finally, the United States violates the ICCPR by permitting capital punishment for defendants who did not kill, attempt to kill or have any intention to kill. Allowing the death penalty in such contexts directly contradicts the ICCPR requirement that “death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes.”

The Advocates and Reprieve offers several recommendations for the Committee to make to the United States delegation:

  • Require United States states to provide compensation, support and an apology to those wrongly placed on death row;
  • The United States should adopt a moratorium of the death penalty until the country is able to undertake studies with the purpose of developing means to eliminate racial bias in the criminal justice system;
  • The United States and the nation's states impose a moratorium on the death penalty in light of the human rights violations of the use of lethal injection until there is evidence that the procedure can be carried out humanely; and
  • Require the United States to implement a bar on death-eligibility for non-triggermen defendants and review all cases of non-triggermen currently on death row.