PUBLIC AI Index: AMR 51/125/99
UA 203/99 Death penalty / Legal concern 10 August 1999
USA (Nevada)Kenshawn Maxey, aged 18
At a trial due to begin in Clark County, Nevada, on 7 September 1999, the
prosecution will seek a death sentence against Kenshawn Maxey for a murder
he is accused of committing when he was 17 years old. International law forbids
the use of the death penalty for crimes committed by under 18-year-olds.
Kenshawn Maxey is charged with shooting bartender Salvatore Zendano Jr. during
a robbery of O’Aces Bar and Grill in Las Vegas in May 1998.
Article 6(5) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
and Article 37(a) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) ban the
use of the death penalty against those under 18 at the time of the crime. This
article is so widely accepted, and adhered to, that it has become a principle
of customary international law, binding on countries no matter which
international instruments they have or have not ratified.
The USA attempts to justify its use of the death penalty against child offenders
by arguing that it reserved the right to continue this practice when it ratified
the ICCPR in 1992. Article 4 of the ICCPR states that there can be no derogation
from Article 6, even in times of public emergency. The UN Human Rights Committee,
the expert body set up to monitor countries’ compliance with the ICCPR, has
stated that the US reservation should be withdrawn as it contravenes the object
and purpose of the treaty.
International standards ban the death penalty against children, not to excuse
their crimes, but in recognition of their immaturity and potential for change.
The global consensus on this issue has been confirmed by ratifications of the
CRC. The USA is one of only two countries not to have ratified the CRC (the
other being Somalia, a collapsed state with no recognized government). All
of the 191 countries which have ratified this treaty have done so without making
a specific reservation to Article 37(a). In 1997 China abolished the death
penalty for offenders under 18 at the time of the crime, in order that its
law be in compliance with its CRC obligations.
Since 1990, 19 people are known to have been executed worldwide for crimes
committed when they were under 18. Ten were executed in the USA, while the
other nine were put to death in Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen
(Yemen has since abolished the death penalty for child offenders). Two-thirds
(13) of these 19 executions occurred before August 1993. In the six years since
then, there have been six known judicial executions of child offenders in three
countries, one in Nigeria (1997), one in Pakistan (1997) and four in the USA.
These four - three in 1998 and one in 1999 - are the only such executions known
in the world in the past 22 months.
Some 70 people are on US death rows for crimes committed when they were 16
or 17 years old (see On the Wrong Side of History: Children and the Death Penalty
in the USA, AMR 51/58/98, October 1998). The US federal government is the
authority ultimately responsible for ensuring nationwide adherence to the
country’s international obligations.
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