On February 28, 2002, the Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights (hereinafter the ďCommissionĒ) received a petition dated
February 27, 2002 from the Office of the Post-Conviction Defender of the
State of Tennessee (hereinafter the ďPetitionersĒ) against the
Government of the United States of America (hereinafter the ďStateĒ
or ďUnited StatesĒ). The petition was presented on behalf of Mr.
Abu-Ali Abdurí Rahman, formerly Mr. James Jones (hereinafter ďMr.
Abdurí RahmanĒ or ďAbdurí RahmanĒ), a citizen of the United
States who is incarcerated on death row in the State of Tennessee. The
petition indicates that Mr. Abdurí Rahman was convicted on July 13,
1987 of first-degree murder, assault with intent to commit first-degree
murder with bodily injury, and armed robbery, that he was sentenced to
death on July 15, 1987, and that his execution was scheduled to take
place on April 10, 2002. Mr. Abdurí Rahmanís execution was
subsequently postponed owing to additional domestic proceedings pursued
on his behalf, but has recently been rescheduled for June 18, 2003.
The petition alleges that the State is responsible for violations
of Mr. Abdurí Rahmanís rights under Articles I, XVII, XVIII, and
XXVI of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man
(hereinafter the ďAmerican DeclarationĒ or the ďDeclarationĒ),
based upon deficiencies in the fairness of the criminal proceedings
against him as well as his competence to be executed in light of his
mental condition. The Petitioners also claim that Mr. Adburí Rahman
has exhausted domestic remedies in respect of the allegations raised
before the Commission and therefore that his petition is admissible.
As of the date of this report, the Commission has not received a
response from the State to the petition.
As set forth in the present report, having examined the
information available and the contentions on the question of
admissibility, and without prejudging the merits of the matter, the
Commission decided to admit the claims in the present petition relating
to Articles I, XVII, XVIII, and XXVI of the American Declaration and to
continue with the analysis of the merits of the case.
PROCEEDINGS BEFORE THE COMMISSION
Following the receipt of the Petitionersí petition, which was
designated as Petition P136/2002, the Commission transmitted the
pertinent parts of the complaint to the United States by means of a note
dated March 7, 2002 with a request for observations within 60 days as
established by the Commissionís Rules of Procedure. By note of the
same date, the Commission informed the Petitioners that the pertinent
parts of their petition had been transmitted to the State.
Also on March 7, 2002, the Commission granted precautionary
measures in favor of Mr. Abdurí Rahman, whose execution was set for
April 10, 2002. The Commission requested that the United States take the
necessary measures to preserve Mr. Abdurí Rahmanís life and physical
On March 13, 2002, the State, by means of a note addressed to the
Commission, informed the Commission that it was coordinating with the
State of Tennessee and the Office of the Legal Advisor in the United
States Department of State to formulate a response to the Commissionís
request for precautionary measures for Mr. Abdurí Rahman. The
Commission acknowledged receipt on March 15, 2002.
By means of a letter dated April 2, 2002, the Petitioners
informed the Commission that the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole
had unanimously voted against recommending clemency for Mr. Abdurí
Rahman. Subsequently, in a
note dated April 5, 2002, the Commission informed the State of the
additional information provided by the Petitioners and reiterated its
March 7, 2002 request for precautionary measures asking that the State refrain
from executing Mr. Abdurí Rahman pending the Commissionís
investigation of the allegations in his petition.
In a communication dated April 9, 2002, the Petitioners informed
the Commission that the Governor of Tennessee had denied clemency for
Mr. Abdurí Rahman. The Petitioners also advised the Commission that
the United States Supreme Court had granted Mr. Abdurí Rahman a stay
of execution pending a determination by the Court as to whether it would
hear a petition for a writ of certiorari filed on Mr. Abdurí
Rahmanís behalf, which raised procedural issues concerning the U.S.
Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the exhaustion of
state remedies. By note of the same date, the State informed the
Commission that the Commissionís April 5, 2002 request for
precautionary measures had been transmitted to the State of Tennessee,
and that efforts had been undertaken to coordinate a response to Mr.
Abdurí Rahmanís petition.
By letter dated May 2, 2002, the Petitioners informed the
Commission that the United States Supreme Court had agreed to hear Mr.
Abdurí Rahmanís petition for a writ of certiorari and that the case
would likely be scheduled in the fall of 2002.
The Petitioners, in a communication dated December 11, 2002,
informed the Commission that the United States Supreme Court had
dismissed its grant of Mr. Abdurí Rahmanís petition for a writ of
certiorari on December 10, 2002, and that the State of Tennessee had
subsequently asked the Tennessee Supreme Court to set an execution date.
The Petitioners also indicated that an execution date could be scheduled
for as early as seven days from the date of the Petitionersí
communication. Accordingly, the Petitioners asked that the Commission
reinstate its March 2002 request for precautionary measures in Mr.
Abdurí Rahmanís case.
By note dated December 13, 2002, the Commission reiterated its
March 7, 2002 request that the State take the measures necessary to
preserve Mr. Abdurí Rahmanís life and physical integrity until the
Commission had an opportunity to consider his complaint. In a note of
the same date, the Commission informed the Petitioners of its request.
In a letter dated March 10, 2003, the Petitioners informed the
Commission that on March 6, 2003, the Tennessee Supreme Court set a June
18, 2003 execution date for Mr. Abdurí Rahman. Subsequently, by note
dated March 18, 2003, the Commission informed the State of the
information provided by the Petitioners and reiterated its March 7, 2002
request that the State take the measures necessary to preserve Mr.
Abdurí Rahmanís life and physical integrity until the Commission had
an opportunity to consider his complaint. In the same communication, the
Commission renewed its request for information from the State concerning
Mr. Abdurí Rahmanís petition. As of the date of the present report,
the Commission has not received a response from the State.
POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES
Position of the Petitioners
According to the petition, Abu-Ali Abdurí Rahman is a citizen
of the United States who is incarcerated on death row in the State of
Tennessee. The petition indicates that Mr. Abdurí Rahman was convicted
on July 13, 1987 of first-degree murder, assault with intent to commit
first-degree murder with bodily injury, and armed robbery, and that he
was sentenced to death on July 15, 1987.
With regard to the admissibility of the petition, the Petitioners
argue that Mr. Abdurí Rahman has exhausted available domestic remedies
within the United States. In support of this allegation, the Petitioners
provided information and documentation concerning the various legal
proceedings pursued by Mr. Abdurí Rahman before the U.S. domestic
In particular, the Petitionersí information indicates that Mr.
Abdurí Rahman pursued a direct appeal from his conviction and sentence
up to and including the U.S. Supreme Court.
The information also indicates that Mr. Abdurí Rahman pursued
post-conviction proceedings before U.S. federal courts
and participated in clemency proceedings before the Tennessee Board of
Probation and Parole and the Governor of Tennessee.
In the course of these proceedings, Mr. Abdurí Rahman raised numerous
procedural and substantive allegations relating to the criminal
proceedings against him, including complaints that his jury process was
unfair, that he did not receive effective assistance from his trial
counsel, that the prosecutor had engaged in numerous incidents of
misconduct, and that he was not competent to be executed by reason of
his mental condition.
With respect to the merits of the complaint, the information
provided by the Petitioners indicates that Mr. Abdurí Rahman was
convicted and sentenced to death in 1987 in relation to the murder of a
drug dealer, Patrick Daniels. The Petitioners claim that during the
course of his trial, Mr. Abdurí Rahmanís ability to enjoy a fair and
just determination of his guilt was denied when the prosecutor made
false representations and withheld exculpatory evidence, including the
results of lab tests indicating that the coat worn by Mr. Abdurí
Rahman did not contain any blood despite the fact that the crime scene
was spattered with blood. The Petitioners also contend that Mr. Abdurí
Rahmanís trial counsel failed to present information on his
background, which included information as to extreme physical, sexual
and emotional abuse suffered by Mr. Abdurí Rahman during most of his
life. In addition, the Petitioners allege that Mr. Abdurí Rahman
suffers from mental illness, including borderline personality disorder
and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but that evidence concerning his
condition was not gathered, presented or considered during his trial.
According to the Petitioners, the evidence concerning Mr. Abdurí
Rahmanís background and mental condition was essential to the juryís
determination of guilt and sentence, and, in its absence, he was denied
a fair trial.
In support of the allegations on the merits of Mr. Abdurí
Rahmanís complaint, the Petitioners provided documentation and other
information, which included excerpts of testimony from Mr. Abdurí
Rahmanís trial, a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation crime lab report
concerning the absence of blood stains on Mr. Abdurí Rahmanís
clothing, summaries of alleged instances of previous misconduct on the
part of Mr. Abdurí Rahmanís prosecuting and defense attorneys, and
accounts of physical, sexual and emotional abuse suffered by Mr.
Abdurí Rahman during his childhood and adolescence and associated
Based upon the aforementioned allegations, the Petitioners
contend that the State is responsible for violating Mr. Abdurí
Rahmanís right to life, liberty, and personal security under Article I
of the Declaration, his right to recognition of his juridical
personality and civil rights under Article XVII of the American
Declaration, his right to a fair hearing under Article
XVIII of the American Declaration, and his right to due process of law
under Article XXVI of the American Declaration.
Position of the State
As indicated above, the Commission transmitted the pertinent
parts of the Petitionersí petition to the State on March 7, 2002 with
a request that the State provide information relevant to the
Petitionersí complaints within 60 days. Despite this request and the
Commissionís subsequent communications concerning the precautionary
measures adopted in favor of Mr. Abdurí Rahman, including its March
19, 2003 renewed request for a response to the Petitionersí petition,
the Commission has not received any information or observations from the
State concerning the admissibility or merits of the allegations
contained in Mr. Abdurí Rahmanís complaint.
The Commission has considered the admissibility of the present
complaint pursuant to Articles 30 and 34 of its Rules of Procedure and
makes the following determinations.
Competence of the Commission ratione personae, ratione
materiae, ratione temporis and ratione loci
The Commission is competent to examine the petition in question.
Under Article 23 of the Rules of Procedure of the Commission, the
Petitioners are authorized to file complaints alleging violations of
rights protected under the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties
of Man. The alleged victim, Mr. Abdurí Rahman, is a person whose
rights are protected under the American Declaration, the provisions of
which the State is bound to respect in conformity with the OAS Charter,
Article 20 of the Commissionís Statute and Article 49 of the
Commissionís Rules of Procedure. The United States has been subject to
the jurisdiction of the Commission since June 19, 1951, the date on
which it deposited its instrument of ratification of the OAS Charter.
Inasmuch as the Petitioners have filed complaints alleging
violation of Articles II, XVII, XVIII and XXVI of the American
Declaration, the Commission is competent ratione materiae to
examine the petition.
The Commission is competent ratione temporis to examine
the complaints because the petition alleges facts that occurred on and
after February 19, 1986, the date on which Mr. Abdurí Rahman was
detained for the murder of Patrick Daniels. The facts alleged
therefore occurred subsequent to the date on which the United Statesí
obligations under the American Declaration took effect.
Finally, the Commission is competent ratione loci, given
that the petition indicates that Mr. Abdurí Rahman was under the
jurisdiction of the United States at the time the alleged events
occurred, which reportedly took place within the territory of that
No information appears on the record indicating that Mr. Abdurí
Rahmanís complaint has been previously submitted to the Commission or
any other intergovernmental organization of which the United States is a
member. The State has not contested the issue of duplication of
procedures. The Commission therefore finds no bar to the admissibility
of the Petitionersí claims under Article 33 of the Commission's Rules
Exhaustion of Domestic Remedies
Article 31(1) of the Commission's Rules of Procedure specifies
that, in order to decide on the admissibility of a matter, the
Commission must verify whether the remedies of the domestic legal system
have been pursued and exhausted in accordance with generally recognized
principles of international law. The jurisprudence of the inter-American
system makes clear, however, that the rule which requires the prior
exhaustion of domestic remedies is designed for the benefit of the
State, because the rule seeks to excuse the State from having to respond
to charges before an international body for acts imputed to it before it
has had an opportunity to remedy them by internal means.
According to the Inter-American Court, the requirement is thus
considered a means of defense and, as such, waivable, even tacitly.
Further, a waiver, once effected, is irrevocable.
In the face of such a waiver, the Commission is not obliged to
consider any potential bars to the admissibility of a petitionerís
claims that might have properly been raised by a state relating to the
exhaustion of domestic remedies.
28. In the present
case, the State has failed to provide any observations or information
respecting the admissibility of Mr. Abdurí Rahmanís claims, and has
thereby implicitly or tacitly waived its right to object to the
admissibility of the claims in the petition based upon the exhaustion of
domestic remedies requirement. Moreover,
the information provided by the Petitioners verifies that Mr. Abdurí
Rahman has pursued both appeal and post-conviction review proceedings
before the domestic courts in the United States concerning the
complaints raised before the Commission, with the U.S. Supreme Court
dismissing Mr. Abdurí Rahmanís last petition for a writ of
certiorari on December 10, 2002. In these circumstances, the Commission
finds that Mr. Abdurí Rahmanís claims are not barred from
consideration under Article 31(1) of its Rules of Procedure.
of the Petition
In the petition under consideration, the Commission has concluded
that the United States tacitly renounced its right to assert an
objection of failure to exhaust domestic remedies, as a result of which
the requirement of Article 32(1) of the Commission's Rules of Procedure
is not applicable. However, the provisions of the Rules of Procedure
requiring the prior exhaustion of domestic remedies and the lodging of
the petition within a period of six months from the date of final
judgment of the domestic court are independent. The Inter-American
Commission must therefore determine whether the petition under review
was presented within a reasonable period. In that connection, the
Commission observes that the original petition was received on February
28, 2002 and the last decision of the domestic courts was handed down on
December 10, 2002. The Commission therefore considers that the petition
was lodged within a reasonable period of time.
Article 27 of the Commissionís Rules of Procedure mandates that
petitions state facts ďregarding alleged violations of the human
rights enshrined in the American Convention on Human Rights and other
applicable instruments.Ē The petitioners allege that the State has
violated Articles I, XVII, XVIII, and XXVI of the Declaration.
The Commission has outlined in Part III of this Report the
substantive allegations of the Petitioners, as well as information
submitted by the Petitioners in support of those allegations. After
carefully reviewing the information and arguments provided by the
Petitioners in light of the heightened scrutiny test applied by the
Commission in capital punishment cases,
and without prejudging the merits of the matter, the Commission
considers that the petition states facts that tend to establish
violations of Articles I, XVII, XVIII, and XXVI of the Declaration and
is not manifestly groundless or out of order. Accordingly, the
Commission concludes that the Petitioners' petition should not be
declared inadmissible under Article 34 of the Commission's Rules of
According to the information presently available, Mr. Abdurí
Rahmanís execution is scheduled to take place on June 18, 2003. In
this connection, the Commission recalls its jurisprudence concerning the
legal effect of its precautionary measures in the context of capital
punishment cases. As the Commission has previously observed, its ability
to effectively investigate and determine capital cases has frequently
been undermined when states have scheduled and proceeded with the
execution of condemned persons, despite the fact that those individuals
have proceedings pending before the Commission.
In an effort to avoid this dilemma, it has been the
Commissionís practice to request precautionary measures from states in
capital cases to preserve a condemned prisoner's life and physical
integrity until the Commission has had an opportunity to investigate his
or her claims. The
Commission has expressed the view in this regard that OAS member states,
by creating the Commission and mandating it through the OAS Charter and
the Commission's Statute to promote the observance and protection of
human rights of the American peoples, have implicitly undertaken to
implement measures of this nature where they are essential to preserving
the Commission's mandate. As
the Commission has emphasized on numerous occasions, it is beyond
question that the failure of an OAS member state to preserve a condemned
prisoner's life pending review by the Commission of his or her complaint
undermines the efficacy of the Commission's process, deprives condemned
persons of their right to petition in the inter-American human rights
system, and results in serious and irreparable harm to those
individuals. For these reasons, the Commission has determined that a
member state disregards its fundamental human rights obligations under
the OAS Charter and related instruments when it fails to implement
precautionary measures issued by the Commission in these circumstances.
In light of these fundamental principles, and given that the
Commission has determined the claims raised by Mr. Abdurí Rahman to be
admissible in accordance with its Rules of Procedure, the Commission
hereby reiterates its request of March 7, 2002 pursuant to Article 25 of
its Rules of Procedure that the United States take the necessary
measures to preserve Mr. Abdurí Rahmanís life and physical integrity
pending the Commissionís determination of the merits of his petition.
The Commission concludes that it has the competence to examine
the Petitionersí allegations, and that the petition is admissible in
accordance with the Commissionís Rules of Procedure.
On the basis of the findings of fact and law set forth above, and
without prejudging the merits of the matter,
INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS DECIDES TO:
Declare the present case admissible, in respect of Articles I,
XVII, XVIII, and XXVI of the American Declaration.
Transmit this report to the parties.
Continue with the analysis of the merits of the case.
Reiterate its request pursuant to Rule 25 of the Commissionís
Rules of Procedure that the United States take the necessary measures to
preserve Mr. Abdurí Rahmanís life and physical integrity pending the
Commissionís determination of the merits of his petition
Publish this report and include it in its Annual Report to the
General Assembly of the Organization of American States.
on the sixth day of the month of June, 2003: Marta Altolaguirre,
President; Josť Zalaquett, First Vice-President; Clare Roberts, Second
Vice-President; Juan E. Mťndez, Julio Prado Vallejo, and Susana VillarŠn,
Member Prof. Robert Goldman did not take part in the discussion and
voting on this case, in accordance with Article 17(2) of the
Commission's Rules of Procedure.
See State of Tennessee v.
James Lee Jones, 789 S.W. 2d 545 (Supreme Court of Tennessee, 1990);
cert. denied 498 U.S. 908 (1990). In addition, on January 15, 2002,
the Tennessee Supreme Court dismissed as not ripe for litigation a
further appeal brought by Mr. Abdurí Rahmanís challenging his
competence to be executed on the ground that he was mentally ill.
For state post-conviction proceedings, see James Lee Jones, Jr. v.
State of Tennessee, 1995 W.L. 75427 (Tenn. Crim App.) (dismissing
appeal from trial courtís dismissal of a petition for
post-conviction relief); cert. denied 516 U.S. 1122. For federal
post-condition proceedings, see
Abu Ali Abdurí Rahman v. Ricky Bell, 999 F. Supp. 1073
(U.S. Dist. Ct.); Abu Ali Abdurí Rahman v. Ricky Bell, 226 F.3d
696 (6th Cir); cert. dismissed 122 S. Ct. 386; request
for rehearing dismissed 122 S. Ct. 386.
See Letter from the
Petitioners dated April 2, 2002, informing the Commission that the
Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole had voted 6-0 against
recommending that the Governor of Tennessee grant Mr. Abdurí
Rahman clemency; Letter from the Petitioners dated April 9, 2002,
informing the Commission that the Governor of Tennessee had denied
clemency to Mr. Abdurí Rahman.
 See Appendices A to T accompanying the February 27, 2002 petition of Abu-Ali Abdurí Rahman.
Court H.R., Loayza Tamayo Case,
Preliminary Objections, Judgment of January 31, 1996, Series C No.
25, para. 40.
to the Commission's established jurisprudence, it will review and
decide capital punishment cases with a heightened level of scrutiny,
to ensure that any deprivation of life that an OAS member state
proposes to effect through the death penalty complies strictly with
the requirements of the applicable inter-American human rights
instruments. See Report Nļ
57/96 (Andrews v. United States), Annual Report of the IACHR 1997,
paras. 170-171; Report Nļ 38/00 (Baptiste v. Grenada), Annual
Report of the IACHR 1999, paras. 64-66; Report Nļ 41/00 (McKenzie et
al. v. Jamaica), Annual Report of the IACHR 1999, paras.
 See Case 12.243, Report Nį 52/01, Juan Raul Garza v. United States, Annual Report of the IACHR 2000, para. 117; IACHR, Fifth Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Guatemala, Doc. OEA/Ser.L/V/II.111 doc.21 rev. (6 April 2001), paras. 71, 72. See similarly I/A Court H.R., Provisional measures adopted in the James et al. Case, Order of August 29, 1998, Series E; International Court of Justice, Case Concerning the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (Germany v. United States of America), Request for the Indication of Provisional Measures, Order of 3 March 1999, I.C.J. General List, Nļ 104, paras. 22-28; United Nations Human Rights Committee, Dante Piandiong and others v. The Philippines, Communication Nļ 869/1999, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/70/D/869.1999 (19 October 1999), paras. 5.1-5.4; Eur. Court H.R., Affaire Mamatkulov et Abdurasulovic c. Turkey, Reqs. Nos. 46827/99, 46951/99 (6 February 2003), paras. 104-107.