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Tuesday, October 6, 1998 Published at 18:18 GMT 19:18 UK

World: Americas

Amnesty slams US over human rights

Florida suspended the death penalty after "Old Sparky" caught fire

The human rights organisation, Amnesty International, has condemned the widespread use of the death penalty in the United States saying it is racist, arbitrary and unfair.

Pierre Sane of Amnesty International: wants moratorium on use of death penalty
In its first comprehensive report on human rights violations in America, the organisation also raises concerns about the treatment of asylum seekers and condemns America for criticising other countries' behaviour while failing to uphold proper standards itself.

"When the US house is not in order, it makes it far harder for the US to take the kind of leadership role in international human rights that many of us in Amnesty would like to see it take," says William Schulz, executive director of the American chapter of the London-based organisation.

Amnesty International, a long-time opponent of the death penalty, alleges that in the US it is used in a way which is racist, arbitrary and unfair.

It points out that as well as the disproportionately high number of black criminals who are sentenced to death, some state authorities also execute juveniles and people who are mentally retarded.

'Cruel and degrading'

The report severely criticises the use of force by police and prison officers, saying cruel, degrading and sometimes life-threatening methods of restraint continue to be a feature of the American criminal justice system.

As part of a year-long campaign focusing on human rights in America, Amnesty recommends that independent watchdog groups are set up to monitor the criminal justice system.

A State Department spokesman said while the US welcomed Amnesty's scrutiny, it believed the American judicial system to be the envy of the world.

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