40 years of campaigning to abolish the death penalty

By Kristina Roth, Senior Program Officer for Criminal Justice Programs, Amnesty International USA

October 10 was the 15th annual World Day Against the Death Penalty. In 1977 Amnesty International held a conference in Sweden on the death penalty, leading to the Declaration of Stockholm, the first international manifesto calling on all governments to abolish the death penalty and the beginning of Amnesty’s work to abolish the death penalty worldwide. At the time only 16 countries did not have the death penalty, today 104 countries have abolished the death penalty in all circumstances.

Despite this progress, 57 countries, including the United States, still retain the death penalty. Since the U.S. lifted the federal moratorium on the death penalty in 1976, there have been 1,460 executions, 18 of which have been carried out this year. Thirty-one states maintain use of the death penalty, despite a 2016 Gallup report that shows the lowest support for the death penalty in the U.S. since the beginning of the four-year moratorium in 1972. Without Amnesty International’s global reach, we could not have seen such significant strides in 40 years.

In 1992 the United States ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the right to life, and forbids death sentences being applied to juveniles. The United States was late to implement this into law. It was not until 2005 that the U.S. Supreme Court in Roper v. Simmons ruled to eliminate the use of the death penalty for individuals who were under 18 years of age when the crime was committed. This year a Kentucky Circuit Judge pointed to scientific research and lack of national consensus to expand upon Roper, ruling to prevent death sentences for defendants under 21 years of age of the time of the crime. Although this progress is significant, it is expected to see further challenge in the courts.

On October 26, Texas is scheduled to execute Clinton Young, charged with the fatal shooting of Samuel Petry at 18 years of age. Clinton Young has served 15 years on Texas’s death row and maintains his innocence. In Texas, 31 individuals have been executed for crimes committed when they were 18. Join AIUSA in urging Texas Governor Greg Abbott to use his influence and authority to stop Clinton Young becoming number 32, and to ensure commutation of his death sentence.

After 40 years we remain committed to the global fight to end the death penalty in all cases. We hope we can count on you to stand with us, and go the distance to end the ultimate injustice and violation of the right to life.

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