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U.N.: U.S. Uses Death Penalty More on Minorities, Poor

The United States should adopt a moratorium on death sentences, a U.N. rights body said Friday, noting that capital punishment appears to be disproportionately imposed on minority groups and poor people.

The U.S. "should place a moratorium on capital sentences, bearing in mind the desirability of abolishing death penalty," the U.N. Human Rights Committee said in a 12-page release of findings on U.S. compliance with a 40-year-old treaty guaranteeing everyone civil and political rights.

The U.S. mission in Geneva issued a statement in response to the report, but did not specifically address the committee's proposals concerning capital punishment.

But the statement criticized much of the report, saying it made only tenuous connections between the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and proposed recommendations — particularly those relating to issues outside U.S. borders, which Washington says are not covered by the treaty.

The panel, a group of 18 independent experts who review the practices of the 156 countries who have ratified the covenant, said it regretted that the U.S. had not indicated if it has taken steps to review federal and state legislation "with a view to assessing whether offenses carrying the death penalty are restricted to the most serious crimes."

It said that since previous reviews of Washington's compliance with the treaty, the U.S. "has extended the number of offenses for which the death penalty is applicable."

The committee, which consulted with many human rights organizations in connection with the review, said it was "concerned by studies according to which the death penalty may be imposed disproportionately on ethnic minorities as well as on low-income groups, a problem which does not seem to be fully acknowledged."

It urged the U.S. to review federal and state legislation, and to restrict the number of crimes that could carry a penalty of death. It also said Washington needed to assess the extent that death sentences are handed down disproportionately on minorities and poor people.

Criticism by the panel brings no penalties beyond international scrutiny.

The U.S. ratified the treaty in 1992 with a number of reservations and its own interpretations of the text, such as sections dealing with the death penalty.