13 juvenile offenders executed in five years
With four out of the last five juvenile executions in the last two years, 13 executions in five years, compared with just five in the rest of the world, the United States of America is one of three countries which still executes juvenile offenders, along with Iran and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The execution of juvenile offenders is defined as the execution of people who committed their offence when they were under 18 years of age. In the United States of America, 21 states allow for the execution of juvenile offenders when they were just 16 or 17 years of age when they offended. In January 2004, there were over 70 juveniles held on death rows in the USA.
The movement to abolish the execution of juvenile offenders has a powerful lobby behind it: the American Bar Association, The American Psychiatric Association, the Child Welfare League of America, the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, the national Council on Crime and Delinquency, the national mental Health Association and Physicians for Human Rights, among others. A public awareness campaign is run by Amnesty International in the USA, whose website has the following online public petition to abandon the execution of juvenile offenders:
From a legal point of view, the practice of executing juvenile offenders is against the law and is therefore a criminal offence, committed by the United States of America every time a juvenile offender is executed.
Given that the vast majority of nations have ratified treaties banning the sentencing to death and execution of child offenders, this creates a principle of law called "customary international law", which is deemed general legal practice and is therefore binding on all countries under international law, deriving from the principle of opinio juris.
Indeed, the "customary international law" principle comes under the same norm as the jus cogens stipulated by The Vienna Convention of the Law of Treaties. This Convention defines jus cogens as "a norm accepted and recognized by the International Community of States as a whole as a norm from which no derogation is permitted and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of international law having the same character".
Coming under the principles of jus cogens and opinio juris, the question of executing juvenile offenders has a supra-national identity and as a result, the practice is illegal, in whatever state or nation it is carried out.
Whether or not the USA has ratified a document condemning the practice is irrelevant. This country is a member of the international community and as such is governed by the same set of laws which govern the rest of the family of nations. One of the fundamental principles of democracy is that the law is one and the same for all and that nobody or no entity should be above the law.
It is time for Washington to practice what it preaches, and put its own house in order before interfering where it is not called.
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