IACHR

Press Release

IACHR Urges the United States to Stay the Execution of Russell Bucklew

August 23, 2019

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María Isabel Rivero
IACHR Press and Communication Office
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mrivero@oas.org

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urges the United States of America to stay the execution of Russell Bucklew, which is scheduled to take place on October 1, 2019, in the state of Missouri, and to grant him effective relief. The United States is subject to the international obligations derived from the Charter of the Organization of American States (OAS) and the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man since it joined the OAS in 1951. Accordingly, the IACHR urges the United States, and in particular the state of Missouri, to fully respect its international human rights obligations.

On May 20, 2014, the IACHR granted precautionary measures in favor of Russell Bucklew, requesting that the United States refrain from executing him pending the Commission’s investigation of the allegations raised in his petition.

The IACHR adopted Admissibility Report No. 54/14 on July 21, 2014. On May 10, 2018, the Commission adopted Merits Report No. 71/18 in which it concluded that the United States was responsible for violating Russell Bucklew’s rights to life, liberty and security of the person, to a fair trial, to protection from arbitrary arrest, and to due process of law. In that report, the Inter-American Commission concluded that the United States failed to provide him with effective access to judicial protection regarding his right to be free from cruel and inhuman punishment and torture in the context of the application of lethal injection as the method of execution and further, that the amount of time that he had spent on death row, over 20 years, greatly exceeded the length of time that international and domestic courts have characterized as cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Russell Bucklew suffers a rare, congenital medical condition that presents a concrete risk of excessive suffering and pain during his execution. On April 1, 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States rejected the argument that Missouri’s current lethal execution protocol amounted to “cruel and unusual” punishment under the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, holding that “[t]he Eight Amendment forbids ‘cruel and unusual’ methods of capital punishment but does not guarantee a prisoner a painless death”, and finding that his defense had failed to establish the existence of an alternative method of execution that would reduce the suffering.

In Merits Report No. 71/18, the IACHR recommended that the United States grant Russell Bucklew effective relief. Taking into account its conclusions on the lack of an effective remedy to challenge the method of execution, the time that Russell Bucklew had already been held on death row, his rare medical condition and the significant risk, due to that condition, that his execution would cause excessive suffering incompatible with the American Declaration, the Commission recommended that his sentence be commuted, that he be transferred out of death row, and that the State ensure that his conditions of detention be compatible with his human dignity. Despite having made this recommendation in 2018, the State has not adopted actions to comply with it.

The Inter-American Commission reminds the State that, in carrying out the execution of Russell Bucklew, it would commit a grave and irreparable violation of the fundamental rights to life and to not receive cruel, infamous or unusual punishment protected by Articles I and XXVI of the American Declaration. Further, it would mean that the State has failed to comply with the recommendations of the IACHR, an action which contravenes the United States’ international human rights obligations as an OAS Member State under the OAS Charter and related instruments.

The Commission also urges the United States to comply with the non-repetition measures recommended in the merits report, specifically, that it should review its laws, procedures and practices to ensure that persons sentenced to the death penalty have access to effective judicial remedies to challenge the possible impact of the method of execution on their fundamental rights, and that it should adopt a moratorium on the execution of persons sentenced to death.

The Inter-American Commission has dealt with the death penalty as a crucial human rights challenge for decades. While a majority of OAS Member States has abolished capital punishment, a substantial minority retains it. In this regard, the Commission notes that the United States is currently the only country in the region that is carrying out executions under the death penalty. The Commission further notes with concern the announcement of the Federal Government of the United States on July 25, 2019, to resume the execution of federal inmates on death row. In this sense, the IACHR reiterates the recommendation made in its report “The Death Penalty in the Inter-American Human Rights System: From Restrictions to Abolition”, that States impose a moratorium on executions as a step toward the gradual disappearance of the death penalty.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 211/19