Amnesty issues call for U.S. to drop death penalty

LONDON Fri Oct 8, 2010 8:10am EDT

The death chamber at California's San Quentin State Prison, 18 miles (29 km) north of San Francisco, California is shown in this undated file photograph. REUTERS/California Department of Corrections/Handout

The death chamber at California's San Quentin State Prison, 18 miles (29 km) north of San Francisco, California is shown in this undated file photograph.

Credit: Reuters/California Department of Corrections/Handout

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LONDON (Reuters) - Rights group Amnesty International called on the United States on Friday to set an example to other nations by abolishing the death penalty.

Amnesty said the United States was the only country in the Americas to carry out executions in 2009.

"A clear majority of countries have rejected the death penalty. How can the USA claim leadership on human rights yet still commit judicial killings?" said Widney Brown, Senior Director of International Law and Policy at Amnesty International.

"The death penalty is cruel, degrading, ineffective and entirely incompatible with any concept of human dignity. Its use in the USA is marked by arbitrariness, discrimination and error," she added.

Campaigners have designated Sunday as "World Day against the Death Penalty." Although Amnesty's call this week focused on the United States, the group said China executed more people every year than all other countries in the world combined.

Murders involving white victims in the United States were more likely to result in death sentences than those involving black victims, Amnesty said. Three states -- Texas, Virginia and Oklahoma -- account for more than half of U.S. executions.

"Race, geography, electoral politics, local finances, jury composition, and the quality of legal representation are all problematic factors in capital cases in the USA. Being tried for a capital crime is like taking part in a lethal lottery, and it should have no place in any justice system," said Brown.

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