The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to Review Mandatory Minimum Sentencing in the U.S. Justice System

February 9, 2006

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will hold a hearing on the issue of mandatory minimum sentencing on March 3, 2006. Spurred by a petition from the Justice Roundtable and a supporting letter from the American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section, the commission will review findings that show mandatory minimums are applied in a discriminatory fashion and lead to increased arbitrariness in federal sentencing.

The petition cites the 100-to-1 quantity ratio between crack and powder cocaine sentencing as the most flagrant example of how mandatory minimums have a discriminatory impact, since harsh sentences for crack- cocaine convictions fall disproportionately on African Americans. The ABA’s letter referenced the Kennedy Commission findings that state “the American policy makers’ embrace of mandatory minimums and other practices have produced a steady, dramatic, and unprecedented increase in incarceration and drastically increased racial disparities in the criminal justice system.” This increase in incarceration has occurred despite the fact that recently released Department of Justice data reveal a decline in crime.

“This petition was submitted to invite and promote dialogue on the problems associated with mandatory minimums,” said Nkechi Taifa, convener of the Justice Roundtable, a network of criminal justice, civil and human rights, legal, and faith-based organizations

The petition argues that de facto discrimination against African Americans that is a result of harsh mandatory sentences for crack-cocaine cases is a violation of the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man – specifically, the right to equal protection under the law, the right to a fair trial, and the right to judicial protection against violations of fundamental rights. As a member of the Organization of American States, the U.S. is bound by the provisions of this declaration.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, (IACHR), headquartered in Washington, D.C., is one of two bodies in the inter-American system for the promotion and protection of human rights. The other human rights body is the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which is located in San Jose, Costa Rica. The IACHR is an autonomous organ of the Organization of American States, whose members are elected by the OAS General Assembly. One of the Commission’s main functions is to address the complaints or petitions received from individuals, groups of individuals or organizations that allege human rights violations committed in OAS member countries.

The Justice Roundtable is a broad network of criminal justice, civil and human rights, legal and faith-based organizations. The Justice Roundtable works to educate the public and advocate around issues which span the criminal justice continuum from law enforcement to sentencing to prison reform and reentry.

For more information please contact Wendy Sefsaf at 202-721-5642 or wsefsaf@osi-dc.org.

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