The Death Penalty in the United States : Appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States

02/05/2002
Press release
USA

The FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights) has decided to undertake a number of investigations into those states which continue to apply the death penalty, the maintenance of which the FIDH considers fundamentally contrary to human dignity as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The first such investigation was carried out in the United States by a commission of six experts drawn from four different countries (Britain, France, Egypt and South Africa). The commission was mandated to visit in particular the cities of New York and Washington and the states of Illinois and Texas, in order to examine:

- the conditions in which those condemned to death are detained, tried and executed;
- the reasons for the decision of the Governor of Illinois in 2000 to impose a moratorium on executions in the state.

The report is now available in English >> The Death Penalty in the United States (pdfile 776ko)

The publication of this report is a timely reminder to the US authorities that the struggle against terrorism in no way justifies sentencing defendants to death, especially when that sentencing is pronounced in the course of irregular, emergency legal proceedings.
The FIDH report reveals that most of those who are condemned to death in the United States are unable to meet the cost of securing adequate defence representation, and for this and other reasons do not benefit from a fair trial. It also demonstrates that the conditions under which 450 condemned prisoners are detained on Death Row in Texas amount to "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment," prohibited by Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The FIDH notes that, in spite of the growth and recent successes of abolitionist movements in the United States, the moratoria on executions already in place or under consideration in several states have as their sole object the improvement of criminal justice procedures. They are not intended to call into question the principles underlying the death penalty itself, a punishment unworthy of American democracy.

However, the Commission set up by the Governor of Illinois to enquire with the death penalty deserves special mention. Although its recent report proposes improvements to the state’s legislation and an increase in public funding for the defense of those accused of murder who are without adequate means so as to make the whole procedure from arrest to trial more equitable, the Commission nonetheless emphasises that: "no system, given human nature and frailties, could ever be devised or constructed that would work perfectly and guarantee absolutely that no innocent person is ever again sentenced to death."

Such a conclusion amounts in effect to a condemnation of the principle of the death penalty itself. It is therefore incumbent on the Justices of the Supreme Court to declare the death penalty unconstitutional and thereby bring about its abolition.

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