March 7, 2008 / 4:16 PM / 12 years ago

U.N. panel calls for U.S. death penalty moratorium

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United States should impose a death penalty moratorium and stop sentencing young offenders to life in prison until it can root out racial bias from its justice system, a United Nations panel said on Friday.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination also called on Washington to end racial profiling of Americans of Arab, Muslim and South Asian descent, and to ensure immigrants and non-nationals are not mistreated.

The 18 independent experts expressed concern that racial minorities in the United States were more likely than whites to be sentenced to death or to life without parole as juveniles.

They recommended the United States “discontinue the use of life sentence without parole against persons under the age of 18 at the time the offense was committed, and review the situation of persons already serving such sentences.”

Their report also urged Washington to “adopt all necessary measures, including a moratorium, to ensure that the death penalty is not imposed as a result of racial bias on the part of prosecutors, judges, juries and lawyers.”

An unofficial moratorium has effectively been in place since just after the U.S. Supreme Court said on September 25 that it would decide on an appeal by two death row inmates from Kentucky arguing that the three-chemical cocktail used in lethal injections inflicted unnecessary pain and suffering.

One convicted killer was executed in Texas hours later but no one has been since then. The court is expected to rule on the matter by the end of June.

The ruling will not address whether the death penalty or even lethal injection are constitutional, but is focused on the current method of lethal injection that most states use.

The United States last month defended its record before the watchdog, which monitors compliance with an international treaty that Washington ratified in 1994.

The U.S. delegation said big strides have been made to tackle disparities in housing, education, jobs and health care in the country where African-Americans were kept as slaves until the mid-19th century. Laws have also been enacted to fight hate crimes in America, the delegation said.

U.S. officials have investigated some 800 racially motivated incidents against people perceived to be Arab, Muslim, Sikh or South Asian since the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

In its conclusions on the United States, the committee said U.S. efforts to prevent new attacks threatened to worsen discrimination.

“Measures taken in the fight against terrorism must not discriminate, in purpose or effect, on the grounds of race, color, or national or ethnic origin,” it said.

Suspected militants who are detained, many held at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. military base in Cuba, must be accorded basic human rights and legal protections, the body said.

“The committee further requests (the United States) to ensure that non-citizens detained or arrested in the fight against terrorism are effectively protected by domestic law, in compliance with international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law,” it said.

The U.N. body, whose findings are not legally binding, also asked the United States to provide more information on issues such as the status of refugees, asylum-seekers, undocumented migrant workers and trafficking victims under U.S. law.

It asked Washington to report back in a year on progress made in areas of concern including racial profiling and the death penalty.

Additional reporting by Ed Stoddard in Dallas; Editing by Myra MacDonald and John O'Callaghan

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