By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) – The United Nations human rights office said on Tuesday the Trump administration’s decision to reinstate the death penalty at the federal level goes against the domestic and international trend to abolish or halt executions.
The U.S. Justice Department last Thursday reinstated a two-decades-long dormant policy allowing the federal government’s use of capital punishment and immediately scheduled executions for five federal inmates.
The United Nations has long opposed the death penalty, arguing for its abolition or at least a moratorium. Critics in the United States say it is disproportionately applied to minorities and the poor.
“It’s also based on the unacceptable risk of executing innocent people,” U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said at a news briefing.
“And there have been reports in the United States showing, using DNA evidence etc, that innocent people have been executed there,” he said.
Colville said the Justice Department’s decision was “rolling back progress.”
“I would also note that the decision by the U.S. Attorney General (William Barr) very much goes against the trends in the United States as a whole, as well as against the international trend,” Colville said.
The last federal execution in the United States took place in 2003. Since then, protracted litigation over the drugs historically used in injection executions prevented the government from continuing the practice, according to Justice Department officials.
U.S. President Donald Trump has called for increasing the use of the death penalty for drug traffickers and mass shooters, a request the Justice Department has since laid the groundwork to carry out.
Currently there are 62 federal inmates on death row, including Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who planted a deadly bomb at the Boston Marathon in 2013. The first of the five scheduled executions is set for Dec. 9.
Colville said there was no proof that the death penalty serves as a deterrent, dismissing what he said was often a reason invoked for imposing it.
Twenty-five of the 50 U.S. states have abolished capital punishment or have moratoriums on it, he said.
About 170 out of the 194 U.N. member states have either abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, he said.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Bill Trott)