IACHR Welcomes Abolition of Death Penalty in Virginia, United States

March 24, 2021

Washington, D.C. — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) welcomes the entry into force of the law that abolishes the death penalty in the state. This measure has made Virginia the first southern US state to abolish this form of punishment, which has so far been eliminated in 23 states of the country.

According to official information, on February 22, 2021, Virginia's legislators passed bill HB 2263, which repeals the death penalty in the state. On March 24, the governor of Virginia signed the bill into law. Another outcome of this decision is that the execution of inmates on death row will be suspended. According to public information, the state of Virginia has not issued death penalty sentences since 2011, and the last execution in the state took place in 2017.

The IACHR has identified the death penalty as a critical rights challenge for decades. Although most OAS member states have abolished capital punishment, it continues to exist in a substantial minority. However, the IACHR wishes to underline that the United States is the only country in the Western Hemisphere that currently executes people who are sentenced to death.

The IACHR's main concerns in connection with the use of the death penalty are the risk of executing innocent people, the arbitrariness and unfairness with which people are sentenced to the death penalty, and the fact that being held on death row constitutes inhuman treatment. In relation to this, the IACHR wishes to reiterate the recommendation it made in The Death Penalty and the Inter-American Human Rights System: From Restrictions to Abolition, a report which seeks to abolish the death penalty or, failing that, to implement moratoriums on executions as a step toward gradual abolition.

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. 072/21