The death penalty is an unnecessary evil; it is well-established that it does not serve as a deterrent and that the conditions on death row often amount to inhuman treatment. The fact that it is not condemned by all international human rights law instruments reflects the unfortunate reality that many states refuse to accede to such instruments unless they permit the imposition of the death penalty.
However, international law has managed to condemn the death penalty on a wide scale as well as impose safeguards for its practise.
One of the safeguards, even imposed by the United States Supreme Court, is the prohibition to execute those who are “mentally retarded”. Unfortunately, many of those on death row have learning difficulties and often a below-average IQ, which qualifies them as such.
This week the state of Georgia was set to execute a man in his fifties, Warren Hill, who has been deemed to be developmentally disabled. Activists have campaigned for the execution to be stayed. Two hours before the execution was to take place, it was stayed and there was a glimmer of hope that Hill would have his human rights upheld. However, it quickly became clear that the execution had only be stayed because Georgia has changed the method by which it executes those condemned to death, and there were doubts whether the new method was legal.
Georgia is the only state of the US that requires it to be established “beyond a reasonable doubt” that a defendant is suffering from a mental-health condition. The higher the threshold, the greater the risk is of someone being wrongfully executed. Until the death penalty is abandoned completely, its imposition ought to comply with the set safeguards to avoid further tragedy than it already brings.