Human Rights Groups Release Preliminary Death Penalty Findings: Missions to California, Louisiana find torture, discrimination

Press release

Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) released summary findings about the United States’ use of the death penalty, based on missions to California and Louisiana. CCR’s Executive Director, Vincent Warren, presented the findings today at the fifth World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Madrid. The organizations conclude that use of the death penalty in both states violates human rights, from the fundamental human rights violation represented by the death penalty itself to the way it is implemented, which constitutes torture and discrimination.

"California and Louisiana have intensified the human rights problems inherent in the U.S.’s continued use of the death penalty by holding prisoners in conditions and for durations that constitute torture and by imposing the death penalty in racially discriminatory ways," said CCR Executive Director Vincent Warren. "The treatment of prisoners on death row violates both U.S. and international law."

During their missions, CCR and FIDH found that in California, the state with the largest death row population – 752 people – prisoners spend an average of two decades on an overcrowded death row as they wait for attorneys to be assigned and courts to rule on their post-conviction claims. In Louisiana, death row prisoners face blistering heat over 100 degrees, scalding hot water and solitary confinement, and they receive little rehabilitation or recreation. African Americans are overrepresented on death row in both states. While they make up only 32 percent of the general population in Louisiana, they represent 65 percent of the state’s death row. In California, African Americans make up 6.7 percent of the general population, but 36 percent of those on death row. Juries in death penalty cases are overwhelmingly white in both states.

"The death penalty violates the fundamental right to life and must be quickly and universally abolished, but in the interim, California and Louisiana must make immediate changes to ensure that the death penalty is not carried out in a discriminatory manner and that conditions on death row satisfy minimum standards clearly articulated under international law," said Florence Bellivier, FIDH’s chargé de mission and President of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty.

The World Congress Against the Death Penalty is a gathering of anti-death penalty advocates from around the world. CCR Executive Director Vincent Warren spoke on a panel entitled “The Death Penalty as Torture.”

The findings released today can be found here.

The Center for Constitutional Rights also addressed the death penalty as torture in its 2011 position paper, “The United States Tortures Before It Kills: An Examination of the Death Row Experience from a Human Rights Perspective.”

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  • Co-signatories

    The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change. Visit and follow @theCCR.

    FIDH is an international NGO defending all civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It acts in the legal and political field for the creation and reinforcement of international instruments for the protection of Human Rights and for their implementation. Founded in 1922, FIDH is composed of 164 member organizations. Visit FIDH at:

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