UN rights official welcomes US opposition to death penalty for mentally disabled

15 June 2001

The top United Nations human rights official today welcomed United States President George W. Bush's recent statement that the death penalty should never be applied to any individual who is 'mentally retarded.'

"I have written to President Bush, in the light of this statement, urging him to intervene in several cases where persons with mental disabilities are awaiting execution in the United States," said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson. "In particular, I have asked that he make his administration's views known to the courts considering these cases and to the State governors considering signing legislation to ban this practice."

The High Commissioner said US leadership on this issue would be widely welcomed. "I believe the President's statement could mark a turning point, not only with respect to the right to life itself but with respect to the other human rights of people with mental disabilities who are disproportionately represented in prisons throughout the world."

Noting that the mentally disabled were one of the most vulnerable groups in the world, Mrs. Robinson said progress towards ensuring the rights of 'mentally retarded' prisoners would mark "a significant step forward in making the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights truly universal."


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