Death Penalty and Children's rights: New Report Shows USA is Chief Culprit

The execution of juvenile offenders - people convicted of crimes committed when under the age of 18 - is increasingly rare anywhere in the world, and Amnesty International is concerned that the USA continues to press ahead with these executions. The USA is now the only country in the world to openly carry out child offender executions within the framework of its ordinary criminal justice system.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

'The execution of child offenders has rightly become abhorrent in virtually every corner of the world, yet the USA is shamefully ignoring the effective ban on executing child offenders.

The USA has recently claimed to be 'the global leader in child protection', but by imposing death sentences on under-age offenders it undermines international law and its own credibility.

We urgently need a new commitment from the US that it will stop imposing death sentences against juvenile offenders, including in Guantanamo Bay where under-18s are held.'

The 32-page report, 'The exclusion of child offenders from the death penalty under general international law', shows that two-thirds of the world's executions of child offenders in the past decade occurred in the USA - including five in the past 18 months. There have been 20 such executions in the last ten years, 13 in the USA. In the last two decades child offender executions have also taken place in Iran, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen, Nigeria and Barbados.

In April this year the US state of Oklahoma executed by lethal injection juvenile offender Scott Hain, despite various appeals for the execution to be stopped, including by Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu. There are some 80 juvenile offenders still on death row in the US.

Earlier this year it was also reported that a juvenile - Omar Khadr, a Canadian national - is being held at Guantanamo Bay, having been captured in Afghanistan in 2002 when he was 15 years old. He may be a suspect in the shooting of a US soldier and the US authorities have not ruled out bringing him before a military commission that could impose a death sentence.

Amnesty International's 'Exclusion of child offenders' report is specifically calling for the effective prohibition on executing juvenile offenders to be recognised as a 'peremptory norm' of general international law (jus cogens), binding on all countries regardless of which treaties they have ratified. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reached this conclusion last October in a case of an inmate on death row in Nevada for crimes committed when he was 16.

Between 1994 and 2002 Amnesty International recorded:

22,588 executions in 70 countries; of which:

  • Nineteen executions were of child offenders, put to death in five countries; of which:
    • Twelve executions were of child offenders in the USA

(Scott Hain's execution, as above, is the only known execution of a juvenile offender to date in 2003)

Besides the USA, Amnesty International's report highlights executions of child offenders in:

  • Barbados: in 1982 executed a man for a murder committed when he was 17 years old. In May 1988, two other people were under sentence of death for murders committed when they were 17 years old
  • * Democratic Republic of Congo: executed a 14-year-old child soldier named Kisongo in January 2000 within half an hour of his trial by a military court

  • Iran: executed under-18s in early 1980s; since 1990 there have been reports of one execution of a child offender in 1990, three in 1992 and one each in 1999, 2000 and 2001
  • Nigeria: a 17-year-old was publicly executed in July 1997
  • Pakistan: a man was executed in September 1997 for crimes committed in 1988 when he was reportedly 14. In November 2001 Sher Ali was executed for a murder committed when he was 13 years old
  • Saudi Arabia: there have been reports of child offenders being sentenced to death since 1996; no executions have been recorded
  • Yemen: a 13-year-old boy, Nasser Munir Nasser al-Kirbi, was publicly executed in July 1993 following conviction for murder and highway robbery

Relevant information:

Amnesty International UK Website Against The Death Penalty

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