Campaigning for the ratification of the Second Optional Protocol


on 16 June 2007

What if abolitionists were able to begin their next appeal, letter to head of government or draft resolution on the question of the death penalty with a sentence to this effect: “A majority of countries has formally ratified a United Nations treaty permanently banning the death penalty, an unmistakable sign of the international consensus that the death penalty is today a practice as unacceptable as slavery or torture.”

The treaty in question is, of course, the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR aiming at the abolition of the death penalty. However, although a vast majority of states no longer contemplates the use of the death penalty, this trend is not yet fully translated into formal support for the protocol which will ultimately enshrine abolition of the death penalty as a principle of international law.
At the time of writing, 68 of the 160 states in a position to do so (i.e. states party to the ICCPR) have either signed or ratified the Second Optional Protocol including, most recently, Ukraine and reportedly Mexico. However, as surprising as it may seem, 16 abolitionist states have yet to take this crucial step. Ratification of the Second Optional Protocol by these countries would bring the number of states party to 84, more than half the total number of states party to the ICCPR itself.

Pushing for more ratifications
The WCADP campaign for universal ratification of the Second Optional Protocol aims to make a difference in several ways.
First and foremost, the campaign will focus on raising the profile of the protocol, stressing the importance of ratification. According to a Ukrainian NGO, for example, the failure of that country to ratify the Second Optional Protocol until April of this year was due largely to inertia and a lack of awareness about the treaty.
Another important element of the WCADP campaign will be that of working with local organisations to monitor and encourage any ratification initiatives already under way. In Chile for example (which has signed but not yet ratified the Protocol), draft legislation for ratification of the Second Optional Protocol submitted to the National Congress last December by President Bachelet has yet to be approved by the Committee on External Relations.
Furthermore, WCADP will in the coming months call on its member organisations to take part in a letter-writing campaign to bring pressure on authorities in abolitionist countries which have yet to ratify the Second Optional Protocol. Governments which have not yet clarified their position with regard to ratification might be asked to do so. Others might be urged to make good on commitments already undertaken, such as the pledge made by Senegal on becoming a member of the Human Rights Council last year to ratify “the few human rights instruments it has yet to ratify”.

16 states could make the move
WCADP’s efforts to promote the Second Optional Protocol may also be channelled through its member organisations’ submissions to the Human Rights Committee, the monitoring body whose mandate includes clarifying the status of ratification of the Protocol by abolitionist states party to the ICCPR. In fact, the Committee’s guidelines on reporting explicitly require such states to include in their Periodic Reports an explanation of the situation relating to ratification of the Second Optional Protocol.
Finally, in a majority of the 16 states which have yet to ratify the protocol, the death penalty ceased to be an issue in the 1970s and 1980s. In contrast, states which have ratified the protocol in recent years have tended to do so within 5 years of abolition. It would appear therefore that the more time elapses after domestic abolition, the more problematic it may be to achieve ratification. WCADP is increasingly well-placed to work with civil society in states which are close to abolishing the death penalty in order to ensure that crucial momentum and pressure is maintained beyond domestic abolition until ratification of the Second Optional Protocol has been achieved.
In December 2009 the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR aiming at the abolition of the death penalty will mark its 20th anniversary. WCADP is hopeful that by that date support for the protocol, in terms of the number of states party, will enable it to accomplish its aim.

By Karen Hooper, World Coalition expert

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