Describing capital punishment as an “inherently flawed” and “abhorrent practice,” United Nations human rights experts have called on President Joe Biden to take action to end the death penalty in the U.S.

In a statement issued from the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland on March 11, 2021, the rights experts said the death penalty “serves no deterrent value and cannot be reconciled with the right to life.” A press release from the High Commissioner’s office criticized the United States for carrying out the death penalty despite “violations of due process guarantees, such as lack of access to an effective legal defense, and in ignorance of essential facts.”

The human rights experts — which included Agnès Callamard, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and Nils Melzer, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment — are part of the Special Procedures program of the Human Rights Council, an independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanism that addresses human rights issues around the world.

“We call on President Biden to urgently grant clemency to the 48 individuals currently on death row for federal crimes,” the experts said, and “further urge the President, as well as members of Congress, to strongly support legislative efforts to formally abolish the death penalty at federal level.

“In the meantime, President Biden should consider all other possible federal-level actions including directing the Department of Justice to stop seeking the death penalty and withdrawing notices of intent to seek the death penalty in ongoing cases,” they said.

The experts said U.S. executions “have repeatedly resulted in degrading spectacles” and criticized the administration of the death penalty nationwide for “disproportionately impact[ing] African-Americans and people living in poverty.” Citing “thousands of individuals on state death rows across the country” and several pending state execution dates, they urged that “[a]ction must also be taken to address death penalties handed down at the state level.”

Among the actions the administration could take, the experts suggested “[t]he possibility of linking some forms of federal funding to alternative sentencing and a ban on the sale and transport of chemicals used in lethal injections.”

The other members of the expert group that issued the statement were: Dubravka Šimonovic, U.N. Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Elizabeth Broderick (Chair), Dorothy Estrada-Tanck, Meskerem Geset Techane, Ivana RadačIć, Melissa Upreti (Vice Chair), U.N. Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Gerard Quinn, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; Leigh Toomey (Chair-Rapporteur), Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Miriam Estrada-Castillo, Mumba Malila, Seong-Phil Hong, U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; and Ahmed Reid (Chair), Dominique Day, Sabelo Gumedze, Michal Balcerzak, Ricardo A. Sunga III, U.N. Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent

2,494 men and women were on state death rows or faced capital retrials or resentencings in states across the U.S. on October 1, 2020, according to the Death Penalty Information Center’s death-row database and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund quarterly Death Row USA report for Fall 2020.

On his 2020 presidential campaign website, then-candidate Biden pledged to “work to pass legislation to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level, and incentivize states to follow the federal government’s example.” In a six-month period between July 2020 and January 2021, the Trump administration carried out 13 executions, including six during the presidential transition period. The 10 federal civilian executions in 2020 were the most in any calendar year since Grover Cleveland’s second presidency in 1896 and marked the first time in U.S. history the federal government executed more prisoners than all of the U.S. states combined. The six transition-period executions were the most in U.S. history.

According to the 2020 Amnesty International global report on capital punishment in 2020, the U.S. conducted the sixth most executions recorded in any nation in 2019, trailing only China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Egypt. Execution totals were unavailable for North Korea and Vietnam. All of the other most prolific executing nations are governed by authoritarian regimes.


US death penal­ty must be abol­ished, rights experts urge President Biden, United Nations News Centre, March 11, 2021; News Release, USA: UN experts call for President Biden to end death penal­ty, United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, March 11, 2021; Brett Wilkins, UN Experts Urge Biden to Abolish Inherently Flawed’ Death Penalty, Common Dreams, March 112021