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USA: UN rights experts urge the Governor of Virginia to halt execution of man with psychosocial disability

GENEVA (5 July 2017) – Two United Nations human rights experts have issued an urgent appeal for the Governor of Virginia to halt the planned execution of William Morva, a man with psychosocial disability.

Mr. Morva, a 35-year-old, US Hungarian national, was sentenced to death in 2008 in Virginia for the murder of a hospital security guard and a Sheriff’s Deputy. During his trial, the jury was not told about his psychosocial condition and he did not receive reasonable accommodation* to adjust the process to his individual needs. Mr. Morva is scheduled to be executed in Virginia by lethal injection on 6 July 2017.

A court-appointed psychiatrist diagnosed Mr. Morva with delusional disorder in 2014, and noted that his crimes may have been committed as a result of the delusions he was experiencing.

“We are deeply concerned about information we have received indicating that Mr. Morva’s original trial did not meet fair trial safeguards, which include reasonable accommodation in all stages of the process, and may therefore have breached international standards,” recalled the UN Special Rapporteurs on summary executions, Agnes Callamard, and on right to health, Dainius Pūras.

Mr. Morva’s condition is such that he has ceased all communication with his legal team, gravely hampering their ability to defend him as his execution approaches.

“We are concerned at Mr. Morva’s deteriorating psychosocial condition. The denial of reasonable accommodation in detention can be considered a form of discrimination against him because of his mental health condition,” stressed the experts.

“We urge the authorities to annul the death sentence against Mr. Morva and to re-try him in compliance with international standards related to due process and fair trial,” they stressed.

(*) Reasonable accommodation is an adjustment made to accommodate or make fair the same system for an individual based on a proven need.  According to the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, “reasonable accommodation means necessary and appropriate modification and adjustments not imposing a disproportionate or undue burden, where needed in a particular case, to ensure to persons with disabilities the enjoyment or exercise on an equal basis with others of all human rights and fundamental freedoms” (art. 2).

Ms. Agnes Callamard (France) is the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. She has a distinguished career in human rights and humanitarian work globally. Ms. Callamard is the Director of Columbia Global Freedom of Expression at Columbia University and has previously worked with Article 19 and Amnesty International. She has advised multilateral organizations and governments around the world, has led human rights investigations in more than 30 countries, and has published extensively on human rights and related fields.

Mr. Dainius Pūras (Lithuania), Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, is a medical doctor with notable expertise on mental health, child health, and public health policies. He is a Professor and the Head of the Centre for Child psychiatry and social pediatrics at Vilnius University, and teaches at the Faculty of Medicine, Institute of International relations and political science and Faculty of Philosophy of Vilnius University, Lithuania. 

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page: United States of America

For further information and media requests, please contact Vanessa Asensio ( +41 22 917 9001 / vasensioperez@ohchr.org) or write to eje@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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