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First Federal Execution Since 1963 Retrograde Step

USA: First Federal Execution Since 1963 -- A Retrograde Step

* News Release Issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International *

11 June 2001 AMR 51/081/2001 101/01

By executing the first federal death row prisoner in nearly four decades, the USA has allowed vengeance to triumph over justice and distanced itself yet further from the aspirations of the international community, Amnesty International said today in the aftermath of Timothy McVeigh's execution.

The organization deeply regrets this failure of human rights leadership at the highest levels of government in the USA.

"President George W. Bush's record on the death penalty is well-known across the world," Amnesty International said, recalling the 152 state executions that took place during his five-year governorship of Texas -- many of them in violation of international standards.

"By refusing to step in and impose a moratorium on federal executions, he has further damaged his and his country's reputation," Amnesty International said.

The case of Timothy McVeigh presented the government with the opportunity to announce to the widest possible audience that it would no longer support a policy that allows the murderer to set society's moral tone by imitating what it seeks to condemn.

"Instead, the US government has put its official stamp of approval on this policy; killing, it says, is an appropriate response to killing -- the very reasoning said to lie behind the appalling carnage in Oklahoma City on 19 April 1995."

"The level of public scrutiny in the McVeigh case has merely served to highlight the relative silence accompanying the 716 other non-federal executions carried out in the USA since 1977," Amnesty International said, drawing attention to the planned execution of another federal prisoner, Juan Raul Garza, scheduled for next Tuesday.

"With the Garza case, the US government's attitude to its international obligations will be once again in the spotlight," Amnesty International said. The organization stressed how the US government has so far failed to explain satisfactorily the widespread geographic and racial disparities in federal capital sentencing -- issues of direct relevance to the Garza case -- and how the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has called for the execution to be halted, saying it will violate international law because of unfair trial issues.

"The international community must redouble its efforts to persuade the US Government to impose a moratorium on federal executions as a first step towards leading its country to abolition," Amnesty International said.

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