Statement on the occasion of the International Human Rights Day
Humanity and the global human rights movement, including the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, are celebrating the 72nd anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 1948. This day has been commemorated by the United Nations as International Human Rights Day.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is considered a fundamental pillar for instituting inclusive societies that uphold human rights. The Universal Declaration, which recognized the right to life as the most supreme right, paved the way for the subsequent publication of more detailed and comprehensive instruments, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR to Abolish the Death Penalty (OP2), and many other United Nations resolutions protecting the right to life and supporting the foundations of the global abolitionist movement.
The world is celebrating the 72nd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in a context of concern and panic over the COVID-19 pandemic. The World Coalition issued a statement in June 2020 calling for a world-wide moratorium during the pandemic. This crisis has had a devastating impact on the right to life, as thousands of lives have been lost in the face of delays and bottlenecks in finding an effective vaccine. The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty looks forward to the time when humanity has finally overcome this pandemic1.
This year’s celebrations are also characterized by a vote in the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), where a substantial majority of Member States supported the call to suspend executions. A second vote at the UNGA plenary session will take place in mid-December.
First, it should be noted that countries are classified into three categories according to their use of the death penalty:
- Abolitionist countries, which is the vast majority and are constantly expanding;
- Retentionist countries, which provide for capital punishment in their legislation and apply it in practice;
- Countries that provide for the death penalty in law but do not actually carry it out.
There are countries that have justified its implementation, which is what prompted the United Nations General Assembly to adopt the moratorium in 2007. It has been voted on eight times: in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2018, and 2020. For the current year, a vote was conducted during the Third Committee of the UNGA on November 17, 2020. The results of the vote were as follows: 120 countries supported the decision, 39 countries opposed and 24 countries abstained.
The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, referring to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR to Abolish the Death Penalty, and other relevant UN resolutions issued by the Human Rights Council and Treaty Bodies:
- Confirms that the protection of the right to life and the abolition of the death penalty shall continue, in respect for human dignity and the promotion of human rights;
- Expresses its encouragement for local, regional and international dialogues and initiatives to abolish the death penalty; and the resulting progress in the protection of the right to life;
- Appeals to States that are not party yet to the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty to take steps to accede to or ratify the above-mentioned Protocol, and also calls on those Member States that opposed or abstained in the Third Committee vote for a moratorium to reconsider their position at the next vote in mid-December 2020.
Finally, the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty commends the efforts of the human rights movement at the local, national, and international levels to recognize human rights in their entirety and to protect the right to life. The human rights community has persevered in doing this work despite the exceptional circumstances due to the epidemic, which has imposed restrictions that have prevented many activities and initiatives from being carried out.
1 “Covid-19 : Calling for a Worldwide moratorium on the death penalty during the pandemic”, 18 June 2020 http://www.worldcoalition.org/In-May-2020-While-the-World-May-Be-Under-Lockdown-the-Death-Penalty-is-Not.html