Human Rights Council tackles death penalty

International standards

By Aurélie Plaçais, on 29 March 2013

As soon as the UN Human Rights Council convened in Geneva in late February, the International Commission against the Death Penalty held a high-level side event to the session. Senior representatives from the governments of Norway and Spain, the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and the EU’s Special Representative on Human Rights assessed why and how to abolish capital punishment. They called on the remaining executing nations to suspend capital punishment immediately as a first step towards full abolition.
During the High level segment of the Council, many member states mentioned the death penalty: the State Secretaries of Norway and Spain spoke about the World Congress taking place mid-June in Madrid and encouraged all States as well as civil society to take part.

Algeria, Rwanda and Mongolia detail progress towards abolition

Algeria spoke about the UN General Assembly’s moratorium resolution, Rwanda about the Death Penalty Working Group of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and Mongolia about its ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR. The Mongolian representative explained that his country was taking step-by-step measures to finally abolish the death penalty in law and added: “We don’t have much to teach but we have much to share.”
The following week, on the day when the Special rapporteur on Torture was presenting his report, he also participated in a side event sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Advocates for Human Rights, Penal Reform International (PRI) and the Swiss mission to the United Nations. The event aimed to raise awareness about the human rights implications of solitary confinement and the death penalty. PRI’s representative to the World Coalition Jackie Macalesher delivered a speech on the death row phenomenon.

Two resolutions

The death penalty issue was also high on the agenda of informal meetings on two draft resolutions throughout the Council. The first resolution, initiated by Belgium, convenes a panel discussion on the human rights of children of parents sentenced to the death penalty or executed during the 24th session of the Human Rights Council in September 2013.
The second resolution was presented by France, Benin Costa Rica, Moldova and Mongolia. It convenes a high-level panel discussion on the question of the death penalty at its 25th session, in February 2014. Its objective is to exchange views on advances, best practices and challenges relating to the abolition of the death penalty and to the introduction of a moratorium on executions, as well as on national debates or processes on whether to abolish the death penalty.
Both resolutions were adopted during the last days of the Council in late March. Egypt (statement) led the opposition to both texts and stated that “it is the sovereign right of states to use the death penalty”. Singapore warned that “this debate should not just be an exercise to advocate for abolition“. The USA surprisingly voted in favour of the last resolution.
The Human Rights Council was already scheduled to examine a report by the UN secretary general on the death penalty in September 2013. The World Coalition and its members have just submitted contributions for this report.

Photo: Cécile Thimoreau

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