Discussion at the Human Rights Council of human rights violations related to the use of the death penalty

By Jessica Corredor, on 7 March 2017

“Capital punishment raises serious issues in relation to the dignity and rights of all human beings, including not only the right to life, but also to the right not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” This was the introductory message of the UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in his opening speech addressed during the high-level event on the death penalty at the 34th session of the Human Rights Council. 

The abolition of death penalty is a matter of principle, not a matter of culture

The panellists shared their experience regarding the  steps taken in their respective country to abolish the death penalty and the difficulties encountered. Harlem Desir, France’s State Secretary reaffirmed his country’s commitment to the universal abolition of the death penalty, not without first stating that “the death penalty is a matter of principle, not a matter of culture”.

 Tunisia’s former President Moncef Marzouki spoke about the hope he had when he came to power in 2011, for “Tunisia to become the first Arab country to abolish the death penalty”. He commuted the death sentences of the 200 people who were on death row.  But “sadly”, he said, “it was impossible for [him] to establish this important step to become a member of the abolitionist club”. Among the obstacles to the abolition in Tunisia, he mentioned the difficult context after the Arab Spring, but also public opinion and culture.

Panellists from Africa and Asia take a stance against the death penalty

Kagwiria Mbogori, chairperson of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights expressed her concern regarding the lengthy waits of the prisoners on death row and declared that Kenya has taken measures regarding the death penalty. Recently, President Kenyatta commuted the death sentences of 2747 prisoners to “decrowd” death rows. However, despite the de facto moratorium since 1987 and the commutation of the death sentences, “Courts continue to sentence people to death because there are no alternatives to punish certain crimes” said Ms. Mbogori.

Seree Nonthasoot, Thailand’s Representative to the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights highlighted “the increasingly worrying trend to reintroduce the death penalty by jurisdictions  which have abolished it” and emphasized on the obligation held by States to recognize the commitment both in terms of human rights principles and legal obligations once they have signed a convention such as the Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, clearly echoing the situation in the Philippines.

 Retentionist countries defend national sovereignty

Retentionist country representatives also took the floor. While Botswana’s representative insisted on the fact that the death penalty is a criminal justice issue and on the sovereign right of individual States to apply criminal justice, the representative of Singapore read a statement signed by 27 other countries insisting on the deterrence argument and on “the lack of international consensus for or against the death penalty when imposed according to the due process of the law. “

The voices of the civil society

The World Coalition, represented by its member FIACAT, read a joint declaration stating “that the imposition of the death penalty in itself, and regardless of the circumstances surrounding it and the conditions of its application, contravenes the prohibition of torture and cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.
As for Amnesty International, “the use of torture is widespread despite the clear prohibition of this practices under international law”.  Finally, the Quakers highlighted that in certain situations, the impact on the child of a parent sentenced to death can be considered as a cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or torture.

From moratorium to abolition: ECPM’s Side-event

During the Human Rights Council, ECPM organised a side-event to launch the proceedings and the film of the 6th World Congress against the Death Penalty. The side event was also the occasion to announce the next regional and world congresses. Lievin Ngondji director of CPJ evoked the present time as being “the time for Africa to become the next abolitionist continent and serve as an example for many other parts of the world”. ECPM has thus decided to organize the next Regional Congress against the Death Penalty in Africa in 2018 in preparation for the 7th World Congress against the Death Penalty to be held in Brussels in February 2019.

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