News Release

Death Penalty Condemned at U.N.

"Direct Descendant of Lynching," U.S. Professor Says

Washington, DC (April 7, 1998) -- "Capital punishment in the United States is a direct descendant of lynching and other forms of racial violence," a representative of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) told the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland last week. Professor Speedy Rice submitted the association's statement in support of the Commission's vote calling for a worldwide moratorium on capital punishment at its annual meeting in Geneva April 3, contemporaneous with the release of findings by a U.N. human rights investigator that the death penalty in the United States is racially and economically discriminatory and politically driven.

Rice, a professor at Gonzaga Law School in Spokane, Washington, noted that poor people accused of capital crimes are often defended by lawyers who lack the training, skills, resources and commitment to handle a death penalty appointment. "In case after case . . . it is the quality of the appointed representation for the poor, not the facts of the case, that determines who is executed in the United States," Rice said.

That assessment concurs with the findings of the U.N. investigator who drafted the report on capital punishment in the United States. Bacre Waly Ndiaye, a Senegalese lawyer and death penalty expert, concluded in his report that "lack of adequate counsel and legal representation for many capital defendants is disturbing. . . . Race, ethnic origin and economic status appear to be key determinants of who will and who will not receive a sentence of death."

Last Friday, the 53 member nations of the Commission on Human Rights passed a resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions. The vote was 26 in favor of the resolution, 13 against and 12 abstentions, reports Hands Off Cain, a Rome-based international organization whose goal is abolition of the death penalty worldwide by 2000.

Favoring the moratorium were Argentina, Austria, Belarussia, Brazil, Canada, Cape Verde, Chile, Congo, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Mexico, Nepal, Peru, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay and Venezuela.

The United States voted against the moratorium. It was joined by Bangladesh, Bhutan, Botswana, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, South Korea, Rwanda and Sudan.

"People are known by the company they keep," Rice observed after the vote. "Sometimes the same can be said for sovereigns."

Last December, Professor Rice and University of Virginia Professor Julian Bond led a delegation of 30 organizations, including NACDL, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Hands Off Cain, to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. The organizations asked for a resolution condemning the death penalty in the United States and asking European companies to locate factories or other facilities only in those states which do not impose capital punishment. 

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Read Speedy Rice's statement.

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NACDL Communications Department

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.