Annual Report: United States Of America 2011

May 28, 2011

Annual Report: United States Of America 2011

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Violence against women

In July, Congress passed the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010, which gives Indigenous women who survive rape a better chance of obtaining justice. The law improved co-ordination between federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies in investigating such crimes, and took steps to restore tribal authority and resources to deal with crimes on tribal land. The law was introduced in response to concerns raised by tribal organizations and in Amnesty International's 2007 report Maze of Injustice, which exposed the disproportionately high levels of sexual violence against Indigenous women and widespread impunity for perpetrators.

Right to health - maternal mortality

Hundreds of women continued to die from preventable pregnancy-related complications. Wide disparities persisted in access to good quality health care based on race, ethnicity, immigration or Indigenous status, geographical location and income. There were calls for federal and state governments to take all necessary steps to improve maternal health care and outcomes, and eliminate disparities.

A law was passed in March that would expand health care coverage by 2014 to more than 30 million people in the USA who were uninsured. A number of legal challenges to the legislation were pending in US courts at the end of the year.

Children's rights

On 17 May, the US Supreme Court ruled that the imposition of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for a non-homicidal crime on a perpetrator who was under 18 at the time of the crime violated the constitutional ban on "cruel and unusual" punishment. The majority noted that support for this conclusion came in the fact that the USA was the "only Nation that imposes life without parole sentences on juvenile nonhomicide offenders". The majority also noted that Article 37(a) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) prohibits life imprisonment without the possibility of release for crimes committed by anyone under 18 years old.

On 14 October, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child called on the USA to ratify the CRC, the USA and Somalia being the only two countries not to have done so.

Migrants' rights

Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, expressed concern about a sweeping immigration law passed in Arizona in April. It was feared that the law, which required Arizona police to hand over to the immigration authorities individuals who could not provide immediate proof of their status, would increase "racial profiling". Key provisions of the law were later put on hold, pending a federal lawsuit.

Scores of Mexican and Central American irregular migrants crossing into the USA through the desert border regions died of exposure and exhaustion.

Death penalty

Forty-six prisoners - 45 men and one woman - were put to death in the USA during the year. Forty-four were executed by lethal injection, one by electrocution and one by firing squad. This brought to 1,234 the total number of executions carried out since the US Supreme Court lifted a moratorium on the death penalty in 1976.

  • David Powell was executed in Texas on 15 June, more than three decades after his crime, despite compelling evidence of his rehabilitation. He had been on death row for more than half of his life.
  • Holly Wood was executed in Alabama on 9 September. At his trial, his inexperienced lawyer had presented no evidence to the jury of Holly Wood's significant mental impairments.
  • Brandon Rhode was executed in Georgia on 27 September, six days after he slashed his arms and neck with a razor. He was brought back from the brink of death and killed by lethal injection for a crime committed when he was 18 years old.
  • Jeffrey Landrigan was executed in Arizona on 26 October. Over the years, 13 federal judges argued for a hearing into the failings of his trial lawyer. The execution went ahead after the US Supreme Court voted 5-4 to lift a stay imposed by a lower court concerned by the state's refusal to provide adequate information about one of the lethal injection drugs - of which there was a nationwide shortage - it had obtained from a source overseas.

Four men and one woman facing imminent execution were granted executive clemency during the year.