MADPET is for the Abolition of Death Penalty, an end of torture and abuse of rights by the police, an end to death in custody, an end to police shoot to kill incidents, for greater safeguards to ensure a fair trial, for a right to one phone call and immediate access to a lawyer upon arrest, for the repeal of all laws that allow for detention without trial and an immediate release of all those who are under such draconian laws.
of the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Kyung-wha
Kang, at the high-level event on “The Death Penalty: Why, and how to
25 February 2013
Mr. President, Madam Moderator, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the High Commissioner and all of us at OHCHR, may I say
how grateful I am to the International Commission against the Death
Penalty for organising this high level meeting to discuss why and how to
abolish the death penalty. Our thanks go also to the Permanent Missions
of Argentina, Norway, Spain and Switzerland.
Developments over recent years in all regions of the world indicate a
growing trend towards abolition. But we cannot sit content at the
achievement. Reaching our goal continues to require concerted and
conjoined advocacy at the local and global levels. Abolishing the death
penalty takes political courage. There are always some who will try to
manipulate public concerns about heinous crimes for their own purposes
and call for the retention or reintroduction of the death penalty. Such
attempts should be countered with leadership, reason and mutual support
between States, civil society organisations and other stakeholders.
Leaders need to explain the ethical and practical reasons for abolishing
the death penalty to their constituencies.
Why abolish the death penalty?
The reasons, particularly from the human rights perspective, are compelling.
The death penalty undermines human dignity and is irreconcilable with
human rights. Its abolition is needed to fully safeguard the most
sacred of all human rights, the right to life. In this regard, let us
recall that in the 1960s, when drafting the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights, its authors were already paving the way for
the move in international law towards the abolition of the death
penalty. The last paragraph of article 6 of the ICCPR on the right to
life provides that “nothing in this article shall be invoked to delay or
prevent the abolition of capital punishment in any State party to the
Beyond the right to life, the death penalty invariably entails cruel,
inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of international law. The
cruelty of the death penalty starts long before the actual killing, when
the condemned person sits on death row, caught between the fear of
sudden and often violent death and the faint hope that appeals for due
process or clemency could spare his life after all. Thus, as Mr. Juan
Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, stated in his report to
the General Assembly, “there is evidence of an evolving standard within
international bodies and a robust State practice to frame the debate
about the legality of the death penalty within the context of the
fundamental concepts of human dignity and the prohibition of torture and
cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.
Furthermore, the application of the death penalty often leads to a
violation of the right to equality and non-discrimination. In
sentencing, the decision whether to sentence the convicted to death or
life imprisonment is often arbitrary, disproportionate and devoid of
predictable rational criteria. In this process, the odds are often
stacked against the poor and persons belonging to minorities and other
common targets of discrimination, such as LGBT persons.
Another crucial element is the finality of the death penalty, such
that errors in the criminal justice system become irreparable.
Miscarriages of justice cannot be fully eliminated from any legal
system. Even the most developed and robust system, with multiple
judicial safeguards, cannot provide an absolute guarantee of factual
certainty in all cases. Whenever the death penalty is used, there is a
grave risk that individuals are executed for crimes they did not commit,
as shown in too many instances of individuals who were exonerated after
conviction, often on the basis of evidence provided by DNA testing.
And finally, there is lack of merit in the common assertion that the
death penalty has a deterrent effect. Research does not support this
claim. On the contrary, some studies and research have actually revealed
a correlation between the abolition of the death penalty and a decrease
in murder rates. Other studies have concluded that capital punishment
does not deter criminality more than any other form of punishment, and
that the certainty of punishment, rather than its severity, deters
criminals. To curb serious crimes, the focus should therefore lie on
reforming the justice system and rendering it more effective.
Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,
Today, we will also discuss how to abolish the death penalty. In this
regard, the following measures should serve as our starting point.
De jure and de facto abolitionist States should join the 75 countries
that have already ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the
abolition of the death penalty.
De facto abolitionist States should confirm such abolition in law and
pending adoption of the law, establish an official moratorium on
executions. Formal abolition is required to secure the outcome of the
hard-won national debate and prevent it from unravelling in times of
political turmoil and populism.
For all retentionist States, the first step toward abolition is the
initiation of a dialogue on this issue. The effectiveness and
transparency of such a debate requires the provision to the public of
accurate information and statistics on criminality and on the various
effective ways to combat it. In this regard, the lack of data on the
number of executions or the number of individuals on death row
constitutes a serious impediment that remains to be overcome in several
Until the death penalty is abolished, or a moratorium established
aiming to abolish it, retentionist States should ensure, at a minimum,
full compliance with all relevant provisions of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In particular, article 6
of the ICCPR provides that the application of the death penalty shall
be limited to the “most serious crimes.” It should be recalled that this
term has been interpreted to mean that the death penalty should only be
applied to the crime of murder or intentional killing.
according to article 6, the death penalty cannot be imposed for crimes
committed by persons below eighteen years of age and shall not be
carried out on pregnant women.
In addition, according to the jurisprudence of the Human Rights
Committee, the sentence of death is so grave that it should not be
mandatory. Nor can it be carried out in secret, as it would amount to
inhuman treatment of the executed person’s family.
Retentionist countries must also ensure scrupulous respect of due
process guarantees. In accordance with the jurisprudence of the Human
Rights Committee, the imposition of a death sentence at the conclusion
of a trial in which the provisions of article 14 of the ICCPR have not
been respected constitutes a violation of the right to life.
Furthermore, executions should not take place when an appeal or other
recourse is pending, and there must be the possibility for the
individual sentenced to seek pardon or appeal.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We must remain ever vigorous in explaining and persuading those who
have yet to be convinced that the application of the death penalty is
unjust and incompatible with fundamental human rights values. It is an
affront to the right to life and human dignity, not just the dignity of
the immediate victim, but our shared human dignity.
In this regard, I am confident and grateful that this high level
meeting today and the 5th World Congress in June in Madrid will add much
impact to that message and contribute to attaining our goal of the
universal abolition of the death penalty.