- The USA's willingness to execute prisoners for crimes
committed when they were children puts it in a world of its own, Amnesty
International said today, as it published a new report on global adherence
to the ban on the death penalty against child offenders - - those under
18 at the time of their crimes.
- "Two thirds of the world's known executions of child
offenders in the past decade occurred in the USA, including the only four
in the past 18 months," Amnesty International said. "This is
now the only country that openly continues to carry out such executions
within the framework of its regular criminal justice system."
- "The execution of child offenders has become rare
relative to the wider use of capital punishment, with the USA by far the
- The organization recorded 22,588 executions in 70 countries
between 1994 and 2002. Nineteen of these executions were of child offenders,
put to death in five countries. Twelve of these internationally illegal
killings occurred in the USA.
- "Questions have been raised about the USA's commitment
to international standards of justice since 11 September 2001.Here is the
prime example of a longer-standing US tendency to adopt a selective approach
to international human rights law." Amnesty International said.
- The international community has adopted four human rights
treaties of worldwide or regional scope which explicitly exclude child
offenders from the death penalty. This exemption is also contained in the
Geneva Conventions and their two Additional Protocols. The ban is so widely
recognized and respected that it has become a principle of customary international
- In today's report, Amnesty International calls for the
prohibition to be recognized as a peremptory norm of general international
law (jus cogens), binding on all countries regardless of which treaties
they have or have not ratified, and regardless of any conditions they may
have attached to such ratifications. The Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights reached this conclusion last October in a case of an inmate on death
row in Nevada for crimes committed when he was 16.
- "Half a century after the Fourth Geneva Convention
was adopted, three and a half decades since the adoption of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and over a decade since the Convention
on the Rights of the Child came into force, it is surely time for the USA
to admit that it is clinging to an unacceptable practice of the past,"
Amnesty International said.
- The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has been
ratified by 192 countries, and is the most widely ratified human rights
treaty in history. No state party has entered a specific reservation to
its provision excluding child offenders from the death penalty. The USA
made such a reservation when it ratified the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights in 1992. This US reservation has been widely
condemned, including by several other countries as well as the expert body
set up to oversee implementation of the treaty.
- In 2002, a US government delegation told the United Nations
General Assembly Special Session on Children that the USA was "the
global leader in child protection". Meanwhile, some 80 prisoners await
executions on US death rows for crimes committed when they were 16 or 17.
There is also concern that a Canadian national currently held at the US
Naval Base in Guantnamo Bay could yet face the death penalty if selected
for trial by military commission. Omar Khadr was reported to have been
15 years old when he was captured in Afghanistan in 2002. He may be a suspect
in the shooting of a US soldier.
- For a fully copy of the report "The exclusion of
child offenders from the death penalty under general international law",
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