At the local level, Americans are demonstrating a strong commitment to advancing human rights. In recent elections, voters legalized marriage equality in nine states and passed the DREAM Act to expand educational opportunities for undocumented residents in Maryland. In addition, legislators in four states abolished the death penalty. The message to the nation’s leaders seems to be this: human rights still matter, and the task of “perfecting our union” remains incomplete.
As President Obama prepares to give his second inaugural address, he should embrace an ambitious rights agenda: enhancing our security without trampling on human rights; implementing a foreign policy that hold friends and foes alike accountable for human rights violations; and ensuring human rights for all in the United States without discrimination.
Measured against international norms and his own aspirations, President Obama’s first term record on human rights merits an “incomplete.” While he made the bold move of issuing an executive order to close Guantánamo on his second day in office, he has yet to fulfill that promise. The U.S. government’s reliance on lethal drone strikes is growing steadily, but the administration has provided no clear legal justification for the program. Congress has abrogated its responsibility to exercise meaningful oversight of this most ubiquitous element of the “global war on terror,” a paradigm which is in and of itself problematic. Although President Obama has on occasion stood up for human rights defenders abroad — in China, Iran, Russia and Libya — his administration has often muted criticism when it comes to U.S. allies, in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that laws mandating life without parole for juvenile offenders, with no other options, are unconstitutionally “cruel and unusual punishment”. In other words, to be constitutional, a juvenile life without parole scheme needs to have other, lesser, alternatives, so that courts will have the flexibility to consider mitigating factors that are invariably part of a young offender’s background.
While this ruling still allows for the possibility that those under 18 years of age at the time of the crime could be sentenced to life without parole, it is a step in the right direction.
According the Justice Roberts’ dissent, there are over 2,000 juvenile offenders currently serving life without parole who were sentenced under a mandatory scheme (see our infographic). This represents about 80% of the child offenders serving life without parole.
Christi Cheramie was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole at the age of 16 in 1994.
While their peers are finding dates for prom, submitting college applications, and starting families, over 2,500 prisoners sit behind bars in the US without the possibility of parole. What makes these prisoners unique is that they were all sentenced for crimes committed while they were children.
The US is the only country in the world that pursues life imprisonment without parole against children – and it does so regularly. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child expressly prohibits life imprisonment without the possibility of release committed by people under 18 years old. All countries except the USA and Somalia have ratified the Convention.
Americans under the age of 18 are barred from many activities including voting, buying alcohol, gambling, or consenting to most forms of medical treatment, yet children as young as 11 at the time of the crime have faced life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. This needs to change.
Fall is my favorite time of year: the air is cooler, the leaves are pretty, Amnesty International student groups are back together again, and people start signing up for the Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon.
In this—the world’s largest human rights event—we use letters, cards and more to demand the human rights of individuals are respected, protected and fulfilled. We show solidarity with those suffering abuses and work to improve people’s lives.
Tomorrow, Pennsylvania’s Superior Court is set to hear an appeal against an earlier decision to try 13-year-old Jordan Brown in an adult court.
Jordan is charged with killing Kenzie Houk, his father’s pregnant fiancée, in 2009, when he was 11 years old; he is charged with two counts of homicide.
Amnesty International has urged US authorities in Pennsylvania not to try Jordan in an adult court, as doing so could result in a violation of international law. If tried as an adult and convicted of first-degree murder, he would face life imprisonment without parole.
Jordan Brown is the youngest person known to Amnesty to be currently at risk of being sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. The US is the only country we know of in the world that pursues life imprisonment without parole against children – and it does so regularly. Currently there are at least 2,500 people who are serving life imprisonment without parole for crimes committed before they turned 18.
The USA and Somalia are also the only countries in the world that have not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits life imprisonment without the possibility of release for crimes committed under the age of 18. Amnesty International is calling on the US to bring its laws in line with international standards on the treatment of children accused of criminal offenses.
It is shocking that anyone this young could face life imprisonment without parole, let alone in a country which labels itself as a progressive force for human rights.
Action for Human Rights. Hope for Humanity.