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Tuesday, April 14, 1998 Published at 13:03 GMT 14:03 UK


UN attacks US execution policy
image: [ 'Old Sparky' - Florida's instrument of capital punishment ]
'Old Sparky' - Florida's instrument of capital punishment

A United Nations investigation into executions says the United States is violating international law by imposing the death penalty on juveniles and on the mentally sub-normal. A report by the United Nations Human Rights Commission says there are also serious concerns over the objectivity of the US judiciary when deciding on the death penalty as a sentence. The BBC's Imogen Foulkes reports from Geneva:

The United Nations Human Rights Commission first asked the US government to allow a visit by the special investigator in 1994, following persistent reports that internationally agreed safeguards relating to the death penalty were not being fully observed by the United States.

After a long delay, the US finally permitted the investigation at the end of last year. In his report the special investigator says he deplores the practice of imposing the death sentence on people who committed crimes aged less than 18, and he says he believes this violates international law.

The report also expresses grave concern over the execution of mentally sub-normal or insane people. The special investigator says he believes the US is only honouring international conventions on the death penalty when they coincide with US law.

And he expresses disappointment that at local level many American state authorities do not seem to know what their country's international obligations are.

The report also says race and economic status appear to be key factors in who receives the sentence of death. And it questions the politics behind the death penalty in the US, citing several cases where judges have not been re-elected after overturning or reconsidering death sentences.

The special investigator urges the US to discontinue immediately the imposition of death sentences on juveniles, and he says that the execution of women should not be resumed.

But this last request has already been overtaken by the decision of the state of Florida to execute a female prisoner at the start of this year.

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