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The US must immediately halt execution of Kevin Cooper – UN rights experts urge

GENEVA (14 November 2016) – A group of United Nations human rights experts* today urged Jerry Brown, Governor of the State of California United States, to halt the execution of Kevin Cooper, who was convicted for murder following judicial proceedings that reportedly did not meet international standards of fair trial and due process.

Mr. Cooper is expected to be among the first inmates to be executed when lethal injections resume in California. On 8 November 2016, a bid to abolish the death penalty in California (Proposition 62) has been defeated, while Proposition 66, which speeds up the appeals process and quickens the pace of executions, was approved.

In July 1983, Mr. Cooper, a 25 year old African American was arrested for the murders of a couple and their young children in Chino Hills, outside of Los Angeles. Despite testimonies and evidence suggesting that the crimes had been committed by several men, white or Latinos, the police is said to have carried out limited investigations solely directed at demonstrating Cooper’s culpability.

It is also alleged that his trial was marred with procedural irregularities including false evidence at trial on several occasions, the presentation of manipulated testimony and alteration of the results of blood sample.

“There are strong indications that the death penalty may be carried out against Mr. Cooper following judicial procedures that do not fulfill the most stringent guarantees of fair trial and due process, including access to adequate legal assistance and conviction upon clear and convincing evidence”, the experts noted.

“If it were to proceed, his execution will most likely constitute a grave violation of applicable international human rights standards,” they stressed.

The experts recalled the 2009 warning by five federal appellate judges which said that the State of California could “be about to execute an innocent man.” Six additional federal appellate judges joined dissents finding that Mr. Cooper never had a fair hearing to prove his innocence.

The eleven Ninth Circuit Judges’ dissent determined that evidence against Mr. Cooper was likely planted or manipulated by authorities and that exculpatory evidence was destroyed or withheld from the defense. It also stressed that the state would not have been able to obtain a conviction against Mr. Cooper without the planted evidence and had the exculpatory evidence been disclosed.

“To proceed with Mr. Cooper’s execution without proper investigation into the allegation of grave irregularities during his trial would be utterly unacceptable and in flagrant contravention of the United States’ national and international obligations,” the UN experts warned.

“International law, accepted as binding by the US, provides that capital punishment may only be imposed following trials that comply with the most stringent requirements of fair trial and due process, or could otherwise be considered an arbitrary execution,” they stressed.

The UN independent experts also stressed that the UN Human Rights Committee and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have urged the US Federal Government to consider establishing a federal moratorium on the death penalty.

(*) The experts: Ms. Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Mr. Mutuma Ruteere, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; and Mr. Ricardo Sunga, current chairperson of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.

The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups 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. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Welcomepage.aspx 

For more information and media requests please contact Mr. Johel Dominique (+41 22 928 93 98 / jdominique@ohchr.org) or write to eje@ohchr.org.

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

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