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UN Officials Question U.S. On Wrongful Death Sentences, Stand Your Ground

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"UN Officials Question U.S. On Wrongful Death Sentences, Stand Your Ground"

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As former inmate Glenn Ford was released this week after almost 30 years on death row in Louisiana this week, a United Nations committee was meeting in Geneva to assess the United States’ compliance with international human rights obligations.

Members of the committee pointed to Ford’s exoneration as the latest glaring problem with U.S. death penalty and other criminal justice policies that continue to discriminate against minorities, the Guardian reports.

“One hundred and forty-four cases of people wrongfully convicted to death is a staggering number,” said UN human rights committee member Walter Kälin, referencing a list of 144 death row inmates who have been later found innocent, according to Death Penalty Information Center statistics.

Kälin, also a Swiss international human rights lawyer, noted statistics that the punishment is meted out disproportionately to African Americans, adding, “Discrimination is bad, but it is absolutely unacceptable when it leads to death.”

Imposition of the death penalty was one of several criminal justice issues the human rights committee asked the United States to explain, as it reviews its compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees basic human rights including the right to life, freedom of movement, and fair trials. Other issues probed by the committee included U.S. gun policy, including state Stand Your Ground laws, which received skeptical scrutiny from several members who said the laws has not only violated racial disparities, but potentially infringed on the right to life.

Kälin suggested that Stand Your Ground laws don’t just perpetuate racial disparities, but that they are “incompatible” with the right to life under Article 6 of the ICCPR.

Testifying before the body, the Department of Justice’s Roy Austin conceded problems with Stand Your Ground laws, and echoed U.S. Attorney General Holder’s message last summer that it’s time to review the laws. “We should question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods,” Austin said, according to an NAACP tweet.

By contrast, the National Rifle Association has suggested that the controversial Stand Your Ground self-defense laws are instead themselves a “human right.”

The Human Rights Committee is a body of independent experts who monitor the implementation of the ICCPR, and requires member states to present a report to the panel every four years.

Other issues raised by the committee during the hearing included jailing juveniles as adults, laws that criminalize homelessness, and felony disenfranchisement.

“I am simply baffled by the idea that people can be without shelter in a country and then be crimilized for not having Shelter,” said Sir Nigel S. Rodley of the United Kingdom. Rodley also suggested Stand Your Ground laws violate the right to life.

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