Abolition of the death penalty at the 50th session of the UN Human Rights Council


By Anissa Aguedal, on 19 August 2022

The United Nations Human Rights Council met for its 50th Regular Session from June 13 to July 8, 2022. If you missed it, here is what happened regarding the abolition of the death penalty!


Opening her last session as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet informed the Human Rights Council about the evolution of the human rights situation in the world. This speech was marked by strong information about the death penalty: “In Singapore, I am also concerned about the recent executions of two people for drug-related offenses. It is estimated that more than 60 defendants are on death row…I urge the government to impose a moratorium on the death penalty, especially for non-violent drug crimes.” Michelle Bachelet also welcomed the announcement of measures taken to abolish the death penalty in its entirety in the Central African Republic and to abolish the mandatory death penalty in Malaysia, as well as the commitment of the President of Zambia to abolish the death penalty.

Yao Agbetse, spoke about some positive developments in the country, including the adoption of the law on the abolition of the death penalty. 

The death penalty was also mentioned during the presentation of the Secretary-General’s report on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mr. Javaid Rehman. He expressed concerns about the increase in executions, particularly for drug-related offenses. 

The Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, Anaïs Marin, spoke about the death penalty in Belarus: “Amendments to the Criminal Code have broadened the scope of the death penalty to include ‘planning’ or ‘attempting’ to commit terrorist acts.”


On the occasion of this 50th session, several members of the World Coalition against the Death Penalty presented oral statements on the death penalty. 

During the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions on 22 June, the International Federation of ACATs (FIACAT) wished to draw attention to some news concerning the death penalty in sub-Saharan Africa during their oral statement. Ensemble contre la peine de mort (ECPM), also intervened in a video recording to highlight the increase in executions in 2021 as well as “the use of the death penalty as a political tool or means of diplomatic pressure by certain States”. ECPM also encouraged states to vote in favor of the Resolution for a universal moratorium on the use of the death penalty in December 2022.

On July 6, 2022, the interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Central African Republic was held. ECPM, the International Federation of ACAT (FIACAT) and Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture in the Central African Republic (ACAT-RCA) intervened in an oral statement to congratulate the Central African authorities and deputies for the vote in favor of the abolition of the death penalty in CAR.

In an oral statement by Harm Reduction International (HRI) to the UN Human Rights Council on the right to life, the organization referred to the fact that the death penalty remains a punishment for drug-related offenses in 35 countries today and urged member states to respect the obligation to protect the right to life.

A group of 20 experts issued a statement on the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, noting that the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found widespread rights violations related to drug law enforcement, including extrajudicial killings and abuse of the death penalty.

The Human Rights Council adopted the outcome of Southern Sudan’s Universal Periodic Review on July 4. The recommendations on the abolition of the death penalty were and the authorities of Southern Sudan were also urged to work towards the abolition of the death penalty.


The Human Rights Council adopted 23 resolutions and one decision and appointed eight mandate holders. Although there was no specific resolution on the death penalty at this session, one of them was related to the death penalty:

Belarus – In a resolution on the human rights situation in Belarus, the Council expressed concern about the use of the death penalty in a context where fair trial guarantees are not respected. It extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus for a period of one year.


Contrary to the last session held in March, the side events were able to resume in a hybrid format. However, very few were organized during this session in general. 

A side event on youth and the death penalty was organized by the Permanent Mission of Australia to the United Nations, the International Commission against the Death Penalty (ICDP) and eight UN member states (Belgium, France, Moldova, Mongolia, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, and Timor-Leste). 

The International Commission against the death penalty co-organized with Kazakhstan a side event consisting of a roundtable on lessons learned by countries from national experiences in the global campaign for a universal abolition of death penalty.

Finally, the Human Rights Council marked its 50th session by organizing an interactive high-level discussion allowing stakeholders to reflect on achievements and lessons learned since its first session in 2006. Take a look at the origins and work of the Human Rights Council.

The fifty-first regular session of the Human Rights Council is scheduled to take place in Geneva from 12 September to 7 October 2022.

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