CONCURRING OPINION OF COMMISSIONER HÉLIO BICUDO
1. Although I endorse the findings, reasoning and motives of my fellow commissioners in this report, I would like to take the matter further and express my understanding concerning the lawfulness of the death penalty in the Inter-American System.
The American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man
(hereinafter American Declaration), approved at the Ninth International
American Conference, which took place in Santa Fe de Bogota in May and June
of 1948, affirms that “Every human being has the right to life, liberty
and the security of his person” (Article I) and, moreover, that “All
persons are equal before the law and have the rights and duties
established in this Declaration, without distinction as to race, sex,
language, creed or any other factor” (Article 2).
3. Article 4 of The American Convention on Human Rights (hereinafter American Convention), approved on November 22, 1969 in San Jose, Costa Rica, states that “Every person has the right to have his life respected. The right shall be protected by law and, in general, from the moment of conception. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”
4. At the same time, the American Convention, by including the right to personal integrity in the civil and political rights framework, affirms that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhumane, or degrading punishment or treatment.”
5. However, death penalty is provided for in the American Convention in its original version. Article 4, Section 2 allows the death penalty to be applied by Member States only for the most serious crimes.
6. There is a contradiction among the aforementioned articles which repudiate torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading punishment or treatment.
7. The American Declaration considers life to be a fundamental right, and the American Convention condemns torture or the imposition of cruel, inhumane or degrading punishment or treatment. The elimination of a life could be deemed torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading punishment or treatment.
8. It seems that the tolerance expressed in Article 4, Section 2 of the American Convention reveals the sole adoption of a political position of conciliation between all Member-States in order to approve a more general article, the one about the right to life.
9. Before analyzing what it means for some States to retain the death penalty as a part of their legal systems, it is important to note that the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture, signed in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, on December 9th, 1985, describes the meaning of torture as follows: “Torture shall be understood to be any act intentionally performed whereby physical or mental pain or suffering is inflicted on a person for purposes of criminal investigation, as a means of intimidation, as personal punishment, as a preventive measure, as a penalty, or for any other purpose” (Article 2).
10. Notice that this article addresses torture as a personal punishment or penalty in all circumstances.
11. The death penalty brings immeasurable suffering to the individual. Is it possible to imagine the anguish that the individual feels when he/she is informed of the verdict? Or the moments leading up to the actual execution? Would it be possible to evaluate the suffering of those who wait on death row for execution, in some cases for several years? In the United States, fifteen, sixteen or seventeen year-old minors, who committed homicide and subsequently received the death penalty, wait for fifteen years or longer for their execution. Is it possible to imagine a fate worse than remaining between hope and despair until the day of execution?
12. The OAS Member-States, by adopting the Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons, reaffirms that “the true meaning of American solidarity and good neighborliness can be none other than that of consolidating in the Hemisphere, in the framework of democratic institutions, a system of individual freedom and social justice based on respect for essential human rights.”
13. It is important to mention that in 1998 and 1999, the United States was the only country in the world known for executing minors under 18 years of age. To that extent, it is important to note that the United States has accepted the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights since September 1992, Article 6(5) of which establishes that the death penalty cannot be imposed on minors under 18 years old or on pregnant women. The U.S. Senate opted to express its reservation to this section at the moment of its ratification but currently, there is an international consensus opposed to that reservation based on Article 19 (c) of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. This Convention gives the State the possibility to formulate reservations, but these reservations cannot be incompatible with the object and purpose of the treaty.
14. In June 2000, Shaka Sankofa, formerly known as Gary Graham, was convicted in the State of Texas for a crime he committed when he was 17 years old. He was executed after waiting 19 years on death row, although the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (hereinafter “IACHR” or “Commission”) had formally presented requests to the American government to suspend the act until the case was decided by the Commission. There were serious doubts regarding whether Shaka Sankofa had really committed the crime. The U.S. Government did not respond to the Commission’s recommendation but could not escape from the jurisdiction of the IACHR on the protection of human rights, according to the American Declaration. The Commission thus sent out a press release condemning the U.S. decision, since it was not in accordance with the Inter-American System of Protection of Human Rights.
15. The Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women (hereinafter Convention of Belem do Para), approved in Belem do Para, Brazil, on June 9, 1994, does not allow the imposition of the death penalty on women. Article 3 states “ Every woman has the right to be free from violence in both the public and private spheres” and Article 4 states that “Every woman has the right to have her life respected”. Regarding the duties of States, the Convention of Belem do Para establishes that States should “refrain from engaging in any act or practice of violence against women and ensure that their authorities, officials, personnel, agents, and institutions act in conformity with this obligation”. Therefore, if every woman has the right to life, and the right to be free from violence, and the State is denied the practice of violence against women, it seems that the Convention of Belem do Para prohibits the application of the death penalty to women. There is no discrimination against men or children. It cannot be argued that it is “positive discrimination” or “affirmative action”, because it only serves to preserve the inherent rights of the individual. For instance, pregnant women or women with children are entitled to rights based solely on the fact of their exclusive female condition. Thus, the same rights cannot be extended to men. Positive discrimination is usually applied to bring about equality, through temporary and proportional measures, to groups of people that experience de facto inequality. There is no inequality between men and women with regard to the right to life. In any case, the imposition of the death penalty is not a proportional measure, as we will see later on. When it comes to common rights – such as the right to life - we cannot argue positive discrimination. All persons are equal before the law. The prohibition of the death penalty for women was based on both the female condition and the human condition.
16. Article 24 of the American Convention affirms that all persons are equal before the law, and consequently, they are entitled, without discrimination, to equal protection of the law. Although that Convention does not define discrimination, the IACHR understands that discrimination includes distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social cultural or any other field of public life (Manual on the Preparation of Reports on Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 26.)
17. It is also important to note that Article 37(a) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits the imposition of the death penalty on minors under 18 years of age.
18. The above-mentioned Convention is considered a universal legal instrument in the area of human rights. (Only the United States and Somalia have failed to ratify it.)
19. Article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of Child states: “No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age.”
20. Although the U.S. has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it became a signatory to the Convention in February 1995, and has thus accepted its legal obligations. Article 18 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties establishes that the States that have signed a treaty, but not ratified it, shall refrain from engaging in any act that is contrary to its purpose until it has decided to announce its intention of not becoming part of that treaty. Despite the fact that the U.S. has not ratified the Convention, the U.S. State Department has already recognized that the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties serves as a precedent for international treaty proceedings. The U.S. State Department considers the Convention a declaration of customary law based on the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which establishes the importance of treaties as sources of international law as well as a method of peaceful development and cooperation between nations, no matter what their Constitutions and social systems entail.
21. As mentioned above, the imposition of the death penalty against women, is not a case in which positive discrimination could be applied because Article 37 (a) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child aims to preserve rights that are created not only for children but for all human beings.
22. If that is the case, then Article 4 of the American Convention has lost its previous meaning. Therefore States that have signed and ratified it as well as other international instruments cannot impose the death penalty upon any person, regardless of gender or any other personal condition.
23. The issue will be examined under legal hermeneutics of positive law. International law presupposes [normative] dispositions that are above [the] State [law]. As set forth by the illustrious Italian jurist, Norberto Bobbio, universalism – which international law attempts to embody – reappears today, specially after the end of WWII and the creation of the UN, no longer as a belief in an eternal natural law [order], but as the will to constitute, in the end, a single body of positive law of the social and historical development (as natural law and the state of nature). He also ponders that the idea of the single global State is the final limit of the idea of the contemporary juridical universalism, that is the establishment of a universal positive law (Cf. Teoria do Ordenamento Jurídico, Universidade de Brasília, 1991, p. 164).
24. In the present case, we cannot allow a previous law with the same content of a new law to supersede the new law. That would be considered as antinomy, and therefore it has to be solved. What are the rules that should prevail? There is no doubt that they are incompatible. But how could we solve the problem?
25. According to Mr. Bobbio, the criteria to solve an antinomy are the following: a) chronological criteria, b) hierarchical criteria, c) specialty criteria.
26. According to the chronological criteria the new law prevails over the previous law – lex posteriori derogat priori. According to the hierarchy criteria, international law prevails over national law. Lastly, the specialty criteria could also apply in this case, since it is a specific law with a specific purpose.
27. It is impossible to argue that death penalty as described in the Section 2 of Article 4 of the American Convention is a specific law as opposed to general law of the right to life. It is also not possible to accept the idea that death penalty is considered a particular penalty that does not entail a violation of right to life or torture or any other cruel or inhumane treatment.
28. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights affirms that the imposition of restrictions on the death penalty should be effected by setting up a limit through an irreversible and gradual process, which would be applied both in countries that have not abolished the death penalty and in those that have done so. (Advisory Opinion – OC-3/83)
29. The Court also understands that the American Convention is progressive to the extent that, without deciding to abolish the death penalty, it adopts certain measures to limit it and diminish its application until it is no longer applicable.
30. It is worth reviewing the preparatory work of the American Convention that illustrates the interpretation of Article 4. The proposal to outlaw the death penalty made by several delegations did not receive any opposing vote, despite the fact that the majority of votes had not been reached. The development of negotiations in the Conference can be reviewed in the following declaration presented before the Plenary Session of Completion and signed by 14 of 19 participants (Argentina, Costa Rica, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela):
31. In agreement with these assertions, the Commission’s Rapporteur made clear, on this article, his firm tendency towards the abolition of this penalty. (Acts and documents, supra, n.296)
32. Moreover, the rule of law (Estado de derecho) implies, when punishment is imposed, the knowledge of what the penalty actually means. When the purpose of the punishment applied is not only retribution, but the recuperation or rehabilitation of the convict, he or she knows what will happen in his or her future. If the punishment is purely retributive, as in a sentence imposing imprisonment for life, the convict still envisages his future. But if the convict is sentenced to death, the State does not point to what the elimination of his being will bring him. Science, with all its developments, has not managed, up to now, to unveil the after-death: future life, with prize or punishment? Pure and simple elimination?
33. In this sense, the rule of law forbids the imposition of a penalty whose consequences cannot be unveiled.
34. In truth, all punishment enacted by the legislator constitutes species of sanctions, distributed according to a rational scale that attempts to take into consideration a series of factors specific to each hypothesis of unlawfulness.
35. The right and obligation to punish which belongs to the State expresses itself in a variety of figures and measures, according to gradual solutions, measurable in money or in amounts of time. This gradual order is essential to criminal justice, for it would not be realized without a superior criterion of equality and proportionality in the distribution of punishment, for transgressors would then receive more than their just deserts.
36. With the imposition of the death penalty, however, the aforementioned serial harmony is abruptly and violently shattered; one jumps from the temporal sphere into the non-time of death.
37. With what objective criterion or with what rational measure (for ratio means reason and measure) does one shift from a penalty of 30 years imprisonment or a life sentence to a death penalty? Where and how is proportion maintained? What is the scale that ensures proportionality?
38. It could be argued that there is also a qualitative difference between a fine and detention, but the calculus of the former can be reduced to chronological criteria, being determined, for instance, in terms of work days lost, so that it has a meaning of punishment and suffering to the perpetrator, linked to his patrimonial situation. In any circumstance, these are rational criteria of convenience, susceptible to contrast with experience, that govern the passage from one type of punishment to the other, whereas the notion of “proportion” is submerged in face of death.
39. Summing up, the option for the death penalty is of such order that, as Simmel affirmed, it emphasizes all contents of the human life, and it could be said that it is inseparable from a halo of enigma and mystery, of shadows that cannot be dissipated by the light of reason: to attempt to fit it into the scheme of penal solutions is equal to depriving it from its essential meaning to reduce it to the violent physical degradation of a body (quoted by Miguel Reale, in O Direito como experiencia).
40. Hence, the conclusion of the eminent philosopher and jurist Miguel Reale: Analyzed according to its semantic values, the concept of punishment and the concept of death are logically and ontologically impossible to reconcile and that, therefore the “death penalty” is a “contradictio in terminis” (cf. O Direito como Experiencia, 2nd edition, Saraiva, Sao Paulo, Brasil)
41. The jurist Hector Faundez Ledesma writes on this topic: “ as the rights consecrated in the Convention are minimum rights, it cannot restrict their exercise in a larger measure than the one permitted by other international instruments. Therefore, any other international obligation assumed by the State in other international instruments on human rights is of utmost importance, and its coexistence with the obligations derived from the Convention must be taken into consideration insofar as it might be more favorable to the individual.”
42. “The same understanding”, continues the jurist, “is extensive to any other conventional provision that protects the individual in a more favorable way, be it contained in a bilateral or multilateral treaty, and independently of its main purpose” (El Sistema Interamericano de Proetccion de los Derechos Humanos, 1996, pp. 92-93).
43. Moreover, Article 29(b) of the American Convention establishes, in the same line of thought, that no disposition of the Convention may be interpreted in the sense of “restricting the enjoyment or exercise of any right or freedom recognized by the virtue of the laws of any State Party”. In this sense, it is opportune to refer to the IACHR report on Suriname, and the Advisory Opinions 8 and 9 (of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, 1987).
44. On this opportunity, the IACHR affirmed that the prohibition of imposing the death penalty in cases where the offender was a minor at the time of the crime was an emerging principle of international law. Twelve years later there is no doubt that this principle is totally consolidated. The ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the child by 192 States, where the death penalty of minor offenders is prohibited, is a irrefutable proof of the consolidation of the principle (Cf. Report presented by Amnesty international to the IACHR, in Washington, on March 5th, 1999).
45. It is true that the Universal Declaration on Human Rights does not refer specifically to the prohibition of the death penalty, but consecrates in its Article 3 the right of every person to his life, liberty and security (the same provision can be found on Article I of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man). Adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948, under the guise of a recommendatory resolution, the Universal Declaration is held – by many important scholars – to be a part of the body of international customary law and a binding norm (jus cogens) – as defined in Article 53 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. Mutatis Mutandi, it would be lawful to affirm that the Convention on the Rights of the Child, by reason of its breadth and binding character, must also be observed by the only two States that have not ratified it, as has already been said, and has been recognized by the Department of State of the United States of America.
46. It is convenient to observe, furthermore, that the European Court of Human Rights, in its decision in the Soering Case – Jens Soering, born in Germany, in detention in England and submitted to an extradition procedure on behalf of the government of the United States pending charges of murder committed in Virginia, a State that punishes this crime with the death penalty – made opportune comments regarding Article 3 of the European Convention, which establishes the interdiction of torture, inhuman cruel or degrading treatment or punishment. The Court considered that the request could not be granted unless the person subject to extradition would be guaranteed his or her rights under Article 3 of the Convention (cf. Jurisprudence de la Cour europeenne des droits de l’homme, 6th ed. 1998, Sirey, Paris, pp. 18 and ff.).
47. The Court concluded that the extradition to a country that applied the death penalty did not constitute a breach of the right to life or to the right to personal integrity since the death penalty is not, in itself, explicitly prohibited by the European Convention. Nonetheless, the possibility that the condemned could spend years waiting for the moment – totally unpredictable, by the way – of the execution of the punishment, the so called “death row syndrome”, was considered by the Court as constituting a cruel treatment and, therefore, a breach of the right to personal integrity.
It is, doubtlessly, an ambiguity: if there is a delay in imposing
the penalty, there is violation of the right; if the sentence is carried
out immediately, the State’s action will not be considered a breach of
the fundamental right to life.
49. This decision gives rise to the conclusion that little by little, the traditional vision, the positivistic application of the law, is being abandoned. Instead of a literal interpretation of the texts in discussion, a teleological hermeneutics is searched, in this case, of the European Convention, to achieve the major conclusion that the death penalty should not be permitted in any hypothesis.
50. Therefore, the absolute prohibition, in the European Convention, of the practice of torture or of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment shows that article 3, referred to above, proclaims one of the fundamental values of democratic societies. The judgment underlines that provisions in the same sense can be found in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966, and in the American Convention on Human Rights of 1969, protecting, in all its extension and depth, the right of the human person. The Court concludes that it is an internationally approved norm.
51. It is true that the concept of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment depends upon a whole set of circumstances. It is not for any other reason that one should have utmost care to ensure the fair balance between the requirements of the communities’ general interest and the higher imperatives of the protection of the fundamental rights of the individual, that take form in the principles inherent to the European Convention taken as a whole.
52. Amnesty International has affirmed that the evolution of the norms in Western Europe concerning the death penalty leads to the conclusion that it is an inhuman punishment, within the meaning of Article 3 of the European Convention. It is in this sense that the judgment of the court in the Soering case should be understood.
For its part, the Inter-American Court on Human rights has already
affirmed that “The right to life and
the guarantee and respect thereof by States cannot be conceived in a
restrictive manner. That right does not merely imply that no person may be
arbitrarily deprived of his or her life (negative obligation). It also
demands of the States that they take all appropriate measures to protect
and preserve it (positive obligation).” (Cf.
Repertorio de Jurisprudencia del Sistema Interamericano de Derechos
humanos, 1998, Washington College of Law, American University, 1/102)
54. It was for the same reason that the European Court, in the aforementioned Soering decision, considered that “Certainly, ‘the Convention is a living instrument which ... must be interpreted in the light of present-day conditions’; and, in assessing whether a given treatment or punishment is to be regarded as inhuman or degrading for the purposes of Article 3 (art. 3), "the Court cannot but be influenced by the developments and commonly accepted standards in the penal policy of the Member States of the Council of Europe in this field” (par. 102).
55. In fact, to determine whether the death penalty, because of current modifications of both domestic and international law, constitutes a treatment prohibited by Article 3, it is necessary to take into consideration the principles that govern the interpretation of that Convention. In this case, both in the European Convention and in the American Convention, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (Article 3 of the European Convention); “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment or treatment.” (Article 5(2) of the American Convention on Human Rights).
56. In the same line of thought, in the case between Ireland and the United Kingdom, the European Court had already decided that “The Convention prohibits in absolute terms torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, irrespective of the victim's conduct (…) Article 3 (art. 3) makes no provision for exceptions (…)the only relevant concepts are "torture" and "inhuman or degrading treatment", to the exclusion of "inhuman or degrading punishment".(par. 163-164)
57. More recently, in its Advisory Opinion OC-16, of October 1st, 1999, requested by Mexico, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights considered it opportune to state that, as regards the right to information about consular assistance, as part of the due process guarantees, that “in a previous examination of Article 4 of the American Convention, the Court observed that the application and imposition of capital punishment are governed by the principle that " no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life." Both Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 4 of the Convention require strict observance of legal procedure and limit application of this penalty to "the most serious crimes." In both instruments, therefore, there is a marked tendency toward restricting application of the death penalty and ultimately abolishing it.” (par. 134)
58. It is reasonable to ask what is still lacking for the universal elimination of the death penalty? Simply the total recognition of the rights emanated from the treaties.
59. In support of this idea, we find the concurring vote, in the above-mentioned Advisory Opinion requested by Mexico, of Judge Cancado Trindade, wherein relevant assertions are made concerning the hermeneutics of law in face of the new protection demands.
In his concurring vote, the illustrious international legal scholar
and current President of the Court (1999/2001) underlines that “The very
emergence and consolidation of the corpus
juris of the International Law of Human Rights are due to the reaction
of the universal juridical conscience to the recurrent abuses committed against human beings,
often warranted by positive law: with that, the Law (el Derecho) came to the encounter of the human being, the ultimate
addressee of its norms of protection.” (Concurring vote, par.4)
61. The author of the concurring vote also warns that “In the same sense the case-law of the two international tribunals of human rights in operation to date has oriented itself, as it could not have been otherwise, since human rights treaties are, in fact, living instruments, which accompany the evolution of times and of the social milieu in which the protected rights are exercised” (ibid, par. 10)
62. In this sense the European Court on Human Rights, in its Tyrer vs. United Kingdom Case (1978), when determining the unlawfulness of physical punishment applied to teenagers in the Isle of Man, affirmed that the European Convention on Human Rights is “a living instrument which ... must be interpreted in the light of present-day conditions”.
63. Finally, with the demystification of the postulates of the voluntarist legal positivism, it has become clear that the answer to the problem of the basis and the validity of general international law can only be found in the universal legal consciousness, from the affirmation of an idea of objective justice.
Furthermore, in a meeting of representatives of the human rights
treaty bodies, it was emphasized that conventional procedures are part of
a broad international system of human rights protection, which has – as
a basic postulate – the indivisibility of human rights (civil,
political, economic, social and cultural). To ensure in practice the
universalization of human rights, the meeting recommended the universal
ratification, up to the year 2000, of the six core human rights treaties
of the United Nations (the two International Covenants of 1966; the
conventions on the elimination of racial discrimination and discrimination
against women; the UN Convention against Torture; and the Convention on
the Rights of the Child), of the three regional conventions on human
rights (European, American and African), and the ILO Conventions that
concern basic human rights. The representatives at the meeting warned that
the non-compliance by the states in respect of their obligation to ratify
constituted a breach of conventional international obligations and that
the invocation of state immunity, in this context, would result in a
“double standard” that would punish the States that duly complied with
their obligations. (Cancado
Trindade, Tratado de Direito
Internacional dos Direitos Humanos, vol 1, Fabris Ed. 1997, pp.
65. Article 27 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties of 1969 forbids the invocation of domestic law to justify the non-compliance of an international obligation. Moreover, according to Article 31 of the Vienna Convention: “A treaty shall be interpreted in good faith in accordance with the ordinary meaning to be given to the terms of the treaty in their contest and in light of its object and purpose”. It follows also that, according to the doctrine of “effet utile”, the interpreter must not deny any term of a normative provision its value in the text: no provision can be interpreted as not having been written.
66. In effect, the Inter-American Court, in its Advisory opinion OC-14/94, has held that: “Pursuant to international law, all obligations imposed by it must be fulfilled in good faith; domestic law may not be invoked to justify nonfulfillment. These rules may be deemed to be general principles of law and have been applied by the Permanent Court of International Justice and the International Court of Justice even in cases involving constitutional provisions [Greco-Bulgarian “Communities”, Advisory Opinion, 1930, P.C.I.J., Series B, Nº 17, p.32; Treatment of Polish Nationals and Other Persons of Polish Origin or Speech in the Danzig Territory, Advisory Opinion, 1932, P.C.I.J., Series A/B, Nº 44, p. 24; Free Zones of Upper Savoy and the District of Gex, Judgment, 1932, P.C.I.J., Series A/B, Nº 46, p. 167; and, I.C.J. Pleadings, Applicability of the Obligation to Arbitrate under Section 21 of the United Nations Headquarters Agreement of 26 June 1947 (Case of the PLO Mission) (1988) 12, at 31-2, para. 47].” (par.35)
67. In view of the considerations presented here, it can be said that the norm of article 4, section 2 of the Inter-American Convention, has been superseded by the aforementioned conventional provisions, following the best hermeneutic of the International Law of Human Rights, with the result that it is prohibitive, for domestic law – even if older than the American Convention – to apply cruel punishment, such as the death penalty.
68. This result also follows from the principle of the International Law of Human Rights that all action must have as its basic goal the protection of victims.
69. In light of these considerations, provisions such as Article 4(2) of the American Convention on Human Rights should be disregarded, in favor of legal instruments that better protect the interests of the victims of violations of human rights.
Done and signed in Santiago, Chile, on the 4th day of the month of
April, 2001 (signed): Commissioner:
Press Release Nº 9/00, Washington, D.C. June 28, 2000: “The
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights deplores the execution of
Shaka Sankofa, formerly known as Gary Graham, in the state of Texas on
June 22, 2000. Mr. Sankofa was executed, despite formal requests by
the Commission for the United States to ensure a suspension of Mr.
Sankofa's execution pending the determination of a complaint lodged on
his behalf before the Commission”.
In 1993, the Commission received a complaint on
behalf of Mr. Sankofa, alleging that the United States, as a Member
State of the Organization of American States, had violated Mr.
Sankofa's human rights under the American Declaration of the Rights
and Duties of Man, including his right to life under Article I of that
instrument. In particular, it was contended that Mr. Sankofa was
sentenced to death for a crime that he was alleged to have committed
when he was 17 years of age, that he was innocent of that crime, and
that he had been subjected to legal proceedings that did not comply
with international due process standards.
On August 11, 1993, the Commission opened Case Nº
11.193 in respect of Mr. Sankofa's complaint. Following a hearing on
the matter on October 4, 1993, the Commission transmitted to the
United States on October 27, 1993 a formal request for precautionary
measures under Article 29(2) of the Commission's Regulations, asking
that the United States ensure that Mr. Sankofa's death sentence was
not carried out, in light of his pending case before the Commission.
At that time, Mr. Sankofa's execution, which had previously been
scheduled for August 17, 1993, was postponed pending the completion of
domestic judicial procedures.
In February 2000, the Commission was informed that
Mr. Sankofa's domestic proceedings were nearly completed, and that the
issuance of a new warrant of execution was imminent. Accordingly, in a
February 4, 2000 letter to the United States, the Commission
reiterated its October 1993 request for precautionary measures.
Subsequently, in May 2000, the Commission received information that
Mr. Sankofa's petition before the U.S. Supreme Court had been
dismissed and that his execution was scheduled for June 22, 2000.
Accordingly, on June 15, 2000, during its 107th Period of
Sessions, the Commission adopted Report Nº 51/00, in which it found
Mr. Sankofa's petition to be admissible and decided that it would
proceed to examine the merits of his case. Also in this report, the
Commission again reiterated its request that the United States suspend
Mr. Sankofa's death sentence pending the Commission's final
determination of his case.
By communication dated June 21, 2000, the United
States acknowledged the receipt of the Commission's February 4, 2000
communication and indicated that it had forwarded the same to the
Governor and Attorney General of Texas. On June 22, 2000, however, the
Commission received information that the Texas Board of Pardons and
Paroles declined to recommend that Mr. Sankofa be granted a reprieve,
commutation or pardon, and that his execution was to proceed on the
evening of June 22, 2000. Consequently, by communication of the same
date, the Commission requested that the United States provide an
urgent response to its previous request for precautionary measures.
Regrettably, the United States did not respond to the Commission's
June 22, 2000 request, and Mr. Sankofa's execution proceeded as
The Commission is gravely concerned that, despite the fact that Mr. Sankofa's case had been admitted for consideration by a competent international human rights body, the United States failed to respect the Commission's requests to preserve Mr. Sankofa's life so that his case could be properly and effectively reviewed in the context of the United States' international human rights obligations. In light of the irreparable damage caused by such circumstances, the Commission calls upon the United States and other OAS Member States to comply with the Commission's requests for precautionary measures, particularly in those cases involving the most fundamental right to life.”
 Op.cit 2, p.92