The U.S. death penalty system flagrantly violates human rights law. It is often applied in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner without affording vital due process rights. Moreover, methods of execution and death row conditions have been condemned as cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment and even torture. The U.S. death penalty system has also failed to protect the innocent—from 1973 through December 2014, 150 innocent people were exonerated from death row.

The drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) contemplated eventual abolition of the death penalty, but it wasn’t until 1991 that the international community, in a complementary treaty to the UDHR, adopted the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), calling for total abolition of capital punishment. 

The ACLU urges the United States to extend the basic human right to life guaranteed by the UDHR and ICCPR to all members of our society and to ratify its companion treaties, especially the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which aims to abolish the death penalty. At a minimum, the United States should begin by imposing a national moratorium on the use of the death penalty in keeping with the 2007 U.N. General Assembly resolution calling for a global moratorium (117 countries voted in favor of the resolution re-adopted in December 2014).

Ultimately, the United States’ compliance with international human rights norms will require nothing less than a complete abolition of the death penalty.

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