Dear Mr. President: We write to commend your decision to postpone the execution of Juan Raul Garza, which had been scheduled for December 12. We share your concerns about possible bias in the death penalty's application. We now urge you to declare a moratorium on all federal executions.

We are concerned by the Department of Justice report, released in September, showing evidence of racial and geographic disparities in the federal government's administration of capital punishment. According to that report, of the nineteen persons on federal death row as of July 20, fifteen were members of minority groups. Minority defendants accounted for 74 percent of the cases in which federal prosecutors sought the death penalty. In addition, fewer than 10 percent of U.S. federal districts accounted for some 43 percent of prosecutorial recommendations of the death penalty.

Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all circumstances because
of its inherent cruelty and because executions are inevitably carried out in an arbitrary manner, inflicted primarily on the most vulnerable-the poor, minorities, and mentally ill or retarded persons. Moreover, the intrinsic fallibility of all criminal justice systems assures that even when full due process of law is respected, innocent persons may be executed.

Particularly at a moment when there are serious questions about how the federal death penalty is applied, we believe it would be unconscionable for the federal government to carry out executions. Although we support total abolition of the death penalty, a moratorium ordered by you at this time would ensure that no executions take place until the basic procedural fairness of the federal death penalty system can be guaranteed.


Kenneth Roth
Executive Director