The Death Penalty Is Dead Wrong: Jus Cogens Norms and the Evolving Standard of Decency

By Geoffrey Sawyer / Penn State International Law Review, on 1 January 2004

The conviction of Amina Lawal in Nigeria for committing adultery and sentence of death by stoning created an international outcry of support to overturn her sentence. The support she received is a reflection of the outrage many around the world feel toward this particular method of execution, and in a larger context the growing social norm that the death penalty should be abolished. As more of the world looks upon the death penalty as unfair, or cruel and unusual, or as torture, arguably, a jus cogens norm prohibiting the death penalty has developed in international law, and will ultimately be the vehicle by which the death penalty will be abolished worldwide. Part I of this comment will detail the plight of Amina Lawal, and how her situation is indicative of the globalization of human rights norms. In Part II, this comment will examine the meaning of a jus cogens norm and how it can be established in the context of capital punishment. Using human rights treaties, the law and practice of other nations, and international tribunal decisions, Part III will assert, citing other contexts, such as the “right to life,” and the already entrenched jus cogens norm prohibiting torture, that a jus cogens norm abolishing the death penalty has arguably already been established. Finally, Part IV will assess what the effect of the establishment of a jus cogens norm prohibiting capital punishment.

  • Document type Article
  • Countries list Nigeria
  • Themes list Stoning,