Death penalty: the great experiment?

By Brian Evans, campaigner for Amnesty International USA’s Death Penalty Abolition Campaign

In a recent report to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the US touted its human rights record and argued that:

“The American experiment is a human experiment; the values on which it is based, including a commitment to human rights are clearly engrained in our own national conscience…”

Yet US commitment to the death penalty, which only a shrinking minority of other nations still supports, belies these grandiose words. A commitment to executions fundamentally conflicts with a commitment to human rights.

There have been around a thousand executions since former Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun famously declared that “the death penalty experiment has failed,” arguing succinctly that “…the inevitability of factual, legal, and moral error gives us a system that we know must wrongly kill some defendants, a system that fails to deliver the fair, consistent, and reliable sentences of death required by the Constitution.”

A new short Amnesty International document illustrates just how pervasive these errors are, drawing just on cases from this month. In Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Virginia and Washington state we have seen executions scheduled, and sometimes carried out, despite blatantly atrocious lawyering, clear racial bias, and defendants whose diminished capacity should have made them ineligible for the death penalty. These cases show that our capital punishment system continues to be “little more than a lottery, with outcomes affected by issues such as prosecutorial resources, electoral politics, race, defence representation, jury composition, and so on.”

And just on Tuesday we saw an inmate, Brandon Rhode, rescheduled for execution three days after his life was saved following a suicide attempt. The cruelty and absurdity, and completely arbitrary nature of American capital punishment has been on full display this month. If the US wants its “commitment to human rights” to be taken seriously, it will have to give up its experiment with the death penalty.

Posted in Americas, Death Penalty, International Organizations | 6 Comments

  1. Lance Searcy says:

    The death penalty is a practice which is out of touch with today’s norms. As an American, I am convinced we must abandon this type of punishment, and follow other nations in setting the example to the world that the death penalty is wrong, and respect for human dignity is an American value. America has the duty to rehabilitate offenders and the right to punish criminals, but no one can be given the right to execute another human being.

  2. Aswani Chada says:

    Capital punsihment is definetly an unfair practice.The convict is awarded such a punshment for killing a fellow human being.What difference does the law make if it awards the same.Superiority of law is in question from a humanitarian view.In countries like India, there is a lot of room for improvement in rehabiliation ways of prisoners.No law has any right to kill a fellow living being., what so ever the reason can be.Peace To All !

  3. Leila says:

    I agree with Lance Searcy. The death penalty is wrong, and to keep continuing with the death penalty goes against all that America stands for. America was founded on the idea of human rights, rights we were not getting from Great Britain at the time. That idea has carried forward through the many hundreds of years, and we can see people working towards justice for all, a phrase which America uses to describe itself. But, this is not being fully carried out in our legal system because of the acceptance of the death penalty.

    People were never meant to choose the fate of others. We are not the holders of life and death, we cannot make judgement on a person and then kill them for their actions. Not only is that unjust but it gives us a power that we should not, and should never hold. The power of life and death is a strong one, and not one that humans should decide for each other.

    Not only this, but keeping the death penalty makes hypocrites of us all. To kill a human being as punishment for killing another makes no sense. So, should the people who convicted and sentenced this person to their death be killed also? After all, they are sending someone to their death, practically killing that human being themselves. But, alas, it does not work that way. And therein lies the hypocrisy.

  4. Cassandra says:

    Being born and raised in Texas, and a survivor of neglect, severe abuse and violence, I lived most of life believing all killers deserved to be put to death for their crimes. Only in the past two years have I opened my mind up to SEE that there is a HUGE line between vengeance and real justice. Texas was killing people in MY name and that wasn’t right. The old ‘an eye for an eye’ just doesn’t sit well with me anymore and I now do what I can to help the various causes in Texas to abolish the death penalty.

    Lance and Leila are correct- killing a person for their crime makes no sense. It makes murderers out of us a society too. And it doesn’t bring a loved one back when the inmate is killed either.

  5. my son is set to be excuted tuesday in az for a crime he’s innocent of, they won’t even test the dna evidence to prove we are right and said they don’t care.

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