Press Release

IACHR urges the United States to comply with the recommendations issued in regard with Víctor Saldaño’s human rights

November 13, 2019

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urges the United States of America to comply with the recommendations issued in regard with the human rights of Víctor Saldaño. 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 to fully respect its international human rights obligations.

On March 18, 2017, the IACHR adopted Merits Report No. 24/17 in which it concluded that the United States was responsible for violating Víctor Saldaño’s rights to life, liberty and security of the person, integrity, equality before the law, to a fair trial, to protection from arbitrary arrest, and to due process of law. In that report, the Inter-American Commission concluded that Víctor Saldaño was not treated in accordance with the principle of equality before the law, because his race and national origin were taken into consideration in the first sentencing trial. Likewise, the IACHR considered that Víctor Saldaño did not have an adequate court-appointed defense and there were multiple procedural obstacles that prevented his claims from being duly and promptly heard and resolved, including the complaints regarding discriminatory imposition of the death penalty during the first trial and the improper consideration of his mental health during the second trial. In addition, the Commission concluded that the deprivation of liberty on death row as a consequence of discriminatory proceedings that violated the rights to a fair trial and to due process of law is, in itself, arbitrary. It further concluded that holding Víctor Saldaño on death row for more than 20 years in solitary confinement has constituted a form of torture, with severe and irreparable detriment to his personal integrity and, especially, his mental health. Ultimately, the Commission concluded that the execution of Víctor Saldaño would constitute a serious violation of his right to life.

In merits report No. 24/17, the Inter-American Commission recommended the United States to grant Víctor Saldaño effective relief, including the review of his trial and sentence; it further recommended that his sentence be commuted, that he be transferred out of death row, that the State ensure that his conditions of detention are compatible with his human dignity and that due attention be given to his mental health. Likewise, the IACHR recommended the United States to review its laws, procedures, and practices to ensure that persons accused of capital crimes are tried and, if convicted, sentenced in accordance with the rights established in the American Declaration; to ensure that the legal counsel provided by the State in death penalty cases is effective and adequately trained to serve in death penalty cases. Finally, it recommended the United States to adopt a moratorium on executions of persons sentenced to death. Despite having made this recommendation in 2017, the State has not adopted actions to comply with it.

On May 26, 2017, the IACHR granted precautionary measures in favor of Víctor Saldaño, requesting that the United States to adopt the measures necessary to guarantee his life and personal integrity; to abstain from carrying out his death sentence; to provide the medical care he needs for his mental health; and to coordinate the measures to be adopted with the beneficiary and his representatives.

The Commission is aware that a petition for a writ of certiorari is about to be decided by the Supreme Court of Justice of the United States in the domestic case of Víctor Saldaño. In this regard, the IACHR recognizes that the decision of said petition constitutes an essential opportunity to comply with the recommendations issued in Merits Report No. 24/17.

Likewise, on November 13, 2019, during the working meeting held between the parties at the 174th Period of Sessions of the IACHR, the United States informed that a judicial decision in relation to the domestic case of Victor Saldaño is currently pending.

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. 294/19