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US fails to protect against unlawful executions: UN investigator

[JURIST] The US does not appropriately protect its citizens and foreign nationals from executions that are out of line with international law, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Philip Alston [advocacy profile] said [statement, PDF; video, RM] Monday. Alston said state death penalty systems need stronger safeguards against racial bias [JURIST report] and wrongful convictions. He added that investigations into the deaths of foreign detainees held in US custody [JURIST report] are often insufficient, due process protections are inadequate for those facing the death penalty under the Military Commissions Act [PDF text; JURIST news archive], and US military contractors are not held accountable [JURIST report] for killings committed abroad. Summarizing his findings, Alston said:

If there is a single theme that emerges from my visit it is the need for greater transparency in relation to a number of issues of major importance... I was frequently told by Government officials that although they were unable to answer my specific questions, I should rest assured that there was accountability. Whether or not it does in fact exist, this “private” or “internal” accountability cannot take the place of genuine, public accountability. A Government open and accountable to its people is a foundational premise of a democratic state.
Alston, who is also a law professor at NYU, presented the report [press release] after an investigation [JURIST report] into both the formal death penalty system and extrajudicial killings. AFP has more. Reuters has additional coverage.

The US had been under a de-facto moratorium [JURIST report] on the death penalty from September 2007 until April of this year, as the US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] considered Baze v. Rees [Duke law case backgrounder; JURIST report], a case which challenged the legality of Kentucky's lethal injection protocol. The Court upheld the procedure, ruling that it did not violate the Constitution's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. In another landmark decision Kennedy v. Louisiana [Duke Law backgrounder; JURIST report], the Court held that a death sentence does constitute cruel and unusual punishment when imposed for a crime in which the victim was not killed.

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