Abolition of the death penalty at the United Nations Human Rights Council 52nd session
The United Nations Human Rights Council met for its 52nd Regular Session from February 27 to April 4, 2023. If you missed it, here is what happened regarding the abolition of the death penalty!
During the debates
Opening his first session as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk delivered, at the occasion of the biennial High Level Panel on the question of Death Penalty, a statement calling for the abolition of the death penalty. He urged countries that had not done so yet to establish a moratorium on executions, and reiterated the international standards which are irreconcilable with the use of mandatory death penalty for non-capital offenses. More information on the High Panel, as well as the statements delivered by members of the World Coalition, can be found here.
Belgian Foreign minister Hadja Lahbib also announced during the session that Belgium, along with other countries, is currently working on a new UN resolution on death penalty which will be submitted to the Human Rights Council in September.
During the Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus on March 22, Nada Al- Nashif, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, highlighted the changes made to the Criminal Procedure Code in 2022. These changes allowed for trials in abstentia, to permit the targeting of activists abroad. She also spoke about the widening of the scope of the death penalty in broadly defined cases of terrorism and treason against the state, which includes acts that do not meet the standards of most serious crimes under international law.
The European Union also made an oral statement on situation in Belarus, highlighting the introduction of death penalty for “attempted acts of terrorism” and the subsequent risks of “politically motivated executions.” The EU reminded Belarus of its obligations pursuant to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and called for the introduction of a moratorium on executions as a first step towards the abolition of the death penalty. Watch the interventions regarding Belarus here.
The death penalty was also mentioned by UN High Commissioner Türk during the Interactive dialogue on Myanmar, where he spoke about the expansion of martial law to large parts of the country. He highlighted how this denies civilians’ right to appeal, even in cases of imposition of the death penalty. He also condemned the widespread use of torture and mock executions across the country. Watch the intervention here.
During the Interactive dialogue on the Democratic Republic of Congo on March 30, UN High Commissioner Türk welcomed the recent legislative reforms adopted in 2022 and encouraged the DRC to implement them as well as promptly adopt pending bills, notably one regarding the abolition of the death penalty. Watch the statement here.
Civil society oral statements on the death penalty
On the occasion of this 52nd session, several members of the World Coalition against the Death Penalty presented 17 oral statements on the death penalty.
During the Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, 4 oral statements focused on the death penalty: one co-signed by ECPM and Iran Human Rights, one co-signed by Harm Reduction International, the World Coalition, ECPM and Capital Punishment Justice Project, and another by the International Bar Association.
The FIDH also delivered a joint statement regarding the situation of protests, freedom of assembly and the death penalty in Iran, highlighting the increasing number of arrests, death sentences and executions since September 2022. It condemned the “utter disregard” that the Iranian government has shown for its international obligations and for human rights.
During the Interactive Dialogue on the OHCHR Report on Belarus, the International Bar Association delivered a joint oral statement, highlighting how Belarus has repeatedly increased offences carrying the death penalty, even for less serious crimes.
Culture pour la Paix et la Justice, ECPM, the International Federation of ACATs (FIACAT), and the World Coalition made a joint statement during the Interactive Dialogue on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to stress the increasing number of death sentences handed out, and the calls for a return to executions by parliamentarians. They called for a commutation of death sentences, an official moratorium on executions, an amendment of the Criminal Code regarding death penalty and the respect of international standards of fair trial.
During the Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, the International Bar Association (IBAHRI), along with Lawyers for Lawyers, delivered an oral statement condemning the military junta’s “executions of four political prisoners in July 2022 following summary and unfair trials, and the military government’s use of capital punishment as a tool to crush democracy activists.”
During the Interactive dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, the International Commission of Jurists also delivered a statement.
The Advocates for Human Rights delivered two statements on South Sudan, one during the High Commissioner’s report on technical assistance and capacity-building and one during the enhanced interactive dialogue on report of Commission of Human Rights in South Sudan.
During the adoption of the Universal Periodic Outcome on India, the FIDH and the World Organization against Torture (OMCT), in partnership with Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, delivered a joint statement calling for India “to reconsider its position on the large number of recommendations to abolish the death penalty and to make a serious commitment to ratify the UN Convention against Torture.”
During the adoption of the Universal Periodic Outcome on Algeria, the Advocates for Human Rights delivered an oral statement calling onto the State to commute the death sentences of all individuals currently on death row, diminish the number of crimes resulting in a death sentence and ratify the Second Protocol to the ICCPR aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.
During the adoption of the Universal Periodic Outcome on Tunisia, the Advocates for Human Rights delivered an oral statement highlighting how the current “criminal legal system does not consider the context of gender-based violence, even when women are at risk of being sentenced to the death penalty.”
During the adoption of the Universal Periodic Outcome on Bahrain, the Advocates for Human Rights delivered an oral statement calling onto the State to commute the death sentences of all individuals currently on death row and immediately restore a moratorium on executions.
In an oral statement during the Interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s update on the situation of human rights in the Sudan, the FIDH, along with the Sudanese Human Rights Monitor and the African Center for Justice and Peace Studies, condemned the human rights violations enacted by the security forces, and highlighted the alarming number of death sentences (2,700 people including 11 children), as well as the lack of access to fair trials.
SHAMS and the Advocates for Human Rights delivered a joint statement during the General debate on the human rights situation in Palestine calling onto the state to “cease immediately the trying of civilian crimes in military tribunals and abolish the death penalty.”
During the General Debate on Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention, Reprieve made a statement about the “complete disregard” shown for human rights and international law by Saudi Arabia, notably regarding its extensive use of the death penalty and torture.
The Human Rights Council adopted 43 resolutions, including one on drug policies and human rights, and 14 decisions and appointed ten mandate holders.
Multiple side events were organized by members of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty.
The IBAHRI, the Permanent Mission of Belgium and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) co-hosted a side event on the role of defense lawyers in death penalty cases during the High Level panel on the question of the death penalty.
A side event on the death penalty in Saudi Arabia was co-hosted by Reprieve and the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights on March 8.
The Advocates for Human Rights organized a side event on the death penalty in the UPR 43 on March 9.
ECPM co-organized one side event with Iran Human Rights about the death penalty in Iran on March 20.
Impact Iran, Article 19, Front line defenders, Amnesty international, Iran Human Rights documentation center et ECPM co-hosted a side event on the state of play 6 months after the beginning of the protests in Iran on March 21.
Finally, the FIACAT and ECPM co-hosted a side event of human rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo on March 30.
The 53rd regular session of the Human Rights Council is scheduled to take place in Geneva from June 19 to July 14 2023.
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