• Press Release

Federal Executions in the United States Buckle Global Progress on Abolition

January 6, 2021

Ahead of the first of three federal executions scheduled to take place in 2021, with Lisa Montgomery facing execution on January 12, 2020, which would make her the first woman to be executed by the federal government in 67 years, Amnesty International’s Interim Executive Director, Bob Goodfellow said:

“President Donald Trump must grant clemency to those facing execution during the last days of his administration and President-Elect Joe Biden should end the use of the federal death penalty immediately upon taking office.

“After a seventeen-year hiatus in federal executions, the Trump administration resumed federal executions this last year and has pursued far more executions on federal death row since reliable statistics began to be gathered in 1927. The cases of those selected for execution have been marked by arbitrariness, ineffective legal representation, racial bias, and, in violation of international law and standards, have involved people with severe mental and intellectual disabilities.

“By resuming the cruelest and most irreversible of punishments, the federal government is dramatically and disgracefully out of step with the general momentum. Around the world countries are increasingly moving away from the death penalty. In the United States twenty-two states have abolished the death penalty, while in all fifty states people are fighting tirelessly to end the inhumane practice.

“2020 brought enormous losses as a result of the pandemic. All three people facing execution have felt the impact of the pandemic, as two of Lisa Montgomery’s lawyers contracted COVID-19, and in December, Corey Johnson and Dustin Higgs reportedly tested positive themselves. Instead of ensuring the safety of all, these actions only add to the death toll and further chip away at this country’s morale.”

Background and context

The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. Amnesty opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception – regardless of who is accused, the nature or circumstances of the crime, or method of execution. Amnesty International believes that the death penalty should be abolished, once and for all.

The United States’ human rights record was reviewed by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2020. During oral remarks, 34 countries, almost one third, called for the US to issue a moratorium on the death penalty and executions.

Amnesty International previously called for the federal government to end the federal death penalty and to rescind the July 25, 2019 addendum to the Federal Execution Protocol and the recently enacted Department of Justice rule on “Manner of executions”. The organization also called on the federal government to withdraw any execution dates already set, cease to seek any death sentences, withdraw authorization for all pending death penalty cases, commute all federal death sentences, and for the US Bureau of Prisons to dismantle the death chamber at FCI Terre Haute prison. Additionally, Amnesty International calls on Congress to abolish the death penalty in federal law.

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, more people on death row across the United States have died of COVID-19 than were executed this year.