The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recently released a nearly 200-page report on capital punishment, with a focus on its own case law and that of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. It is entitled The Death Penalty in the Inter-American Human Rights System: From Restrictions to Abolition.
This is a very thorough review of the applicable law that demonstrates the important role the Inter-American institutions have played in its development.
If a criticism of this otherwise excellent report may be permitted, there is an obvious truth about capital punishment in the western hemisphere that does not emerge: the death penalty has virtually disappeared, with one, single exception.
Over the past decade, several hundred executions have taken place within the United States, while a handful have been conducted elsewhere in the hemisphere. There was one execution in St Kitts and Nevis in 2008, and three in Cuba in 2003. Aside from the United States, that’s it.
Several states in the Caribbean continue to sentence people to death. But executions are not carried out. Much of the responsibility for this is due to the energetic work of lawyers in the region, and in England, who have launched effective judicial attacks. Cuba now appears to have abandoned the death penalty.
The most important observation that can be made about the death penalty in the Inter-American human rights system is that it has disappeared, for all intents and purposes, with this one terrible exception. The Inter-American human rights system deserves much of the credit for this development. In order to progress the idea of abolition in the United States, it is essential that we continue to remind Americans of how isolated they really are. It is also important to point out that the disappearance of capital punishment on a regional level is not just a European phenomenon (with one exception - Belarus). The death penalty has also virtually disappeared in the western hemisphere (with one exception - the United States) and in Africa (with a few exceptions).