IBAHRI condemns US Attorney General Barr’s decision to reinstate the death penalty

Friday 26 July 2019

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) strongly condemns the recent decision by the United States government to schedule the execution of five inmates on death row. The decision marks a break with a 16-year informal moratorium on federal executions and a departure from the general international trend towards the abolition of the death penalty. At the time of US Attorney General William Barr directing the government to reinstate the death penalty, 25 states had the death penalty, 21 had abolished the death penalty and four had a governor-imposed moratorium.

IBAHRI Co-Chair, Anne Ramberg Dr jur hc, commented: ‘Capital punishment is a barbaric, inhuman practice which cannot be justified under any circumstances. We urge the US government to retain the moratorium on the federal death penalty with the ultimate aim of abolition. Sixteen years of an informal moratorium is not long enough.

The IBAHRI believes that the imposition of capital punishment infringes the universally guaranteed right to life and amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, contrary to both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. In 2008, the IBAHRI adopted a Council Resolution on the Abolition of the Death Penalty, which calls on all jurisdictions throughout the world to take steps toward the complete abolition of the death penalty.


IBA President Horacio Bernardes Neto stated: ‘Capital punishment strips individuals of the right to life, in the name of justice. It needs to stop. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, “Since 1973, more than 160 people who had been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death in the US have been exonerated.” The international community must stand together to abolish this outdated practice once and for all.

IBA Executive Director Mark Ellis commented: ‘The Trump administration’s decision to resume the death penalty is deeply concerning. Capital punishment is a deplorable violation of human rights – a cruel, irreversible practice that has no place in civilised society. We urge the federal government to reconsider this ruling.

Not only does the recent decision reverse a long-standing move away from capital punishment, it also flies in the face of the growing global trend towards the abolition of the death penalty. A recent UN resolution on the death penalty in 2018 saw 121 countries vote in favour of a moratorium on the death penalty with a view to its definitive abolition.

IBAHRI Director Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, highlighted the declining use of the death penalty in US states: ‘The death penalty is a merciless punishment which does not serve justice. In the last decade, at least five US states have abolished the death penalty after recognising it as obsolete – we urge the federal government to follow suit and end this blatant violation of fundamental human rights.’


Notes to the Editor

  1. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) is committed to promoting the abolition of the death penalty, as laid out in its Resolution on the Abolition of the Death Penalty. Pending the abolition of the death penalty, the Resolution insists strict observance of the international legal limitations of its application.
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  3. The International Bar Association (IBA) – the global voice of the legal profession – is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

    In the ensuing 70 years since its creation, the organisation has evolved from an association comprised exclusively of bar associations and law societies to one that incorporates individual international lawyers and entire law firms. The present membership is comprised of more than 80,000 individual international lawyers from most of the world’s leading law firms and some 190 bar associations and law societies spanning more than 170 countries.

    The IBA has considerable expertise in providing assistance to the global legal community, and through its global membership, it influences the development of international law reform and helps to shape the future of the legal profession throughout the world.

    The IBA’s administrative office is in London, United Kingdom. Regional offices are located in: São Paulo, Brazil; Seoul, South Korea; and Washington DC, United States, while the International Bar Association’s International Criminal Court and International Criminal Law Programme (ICC & ICL) is managed from an office in The Hague, the Netherlands.

    The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), an autonomous and financially independent entity, works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.

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