12th World Day Against the Death Penalty: Mental Health

October 2014

[English] [français]

On 10 October 2014, the 12th World Day Against the Death Penalty is drawing attention to people with mental health problems who are at risk of a death sentence or execution. While opposing the death penalty absolutely, abolitionists are also committed to see existing international human rights standards implemented. Among these is the requirement that persons with mental illness or intellectual disabilities should not face the death penalty.

Prisons are becoming the mental institutions of the 21st century.

This reflects, at least in part, the failure of societies to provide adequate care and support to people with mental illness and intellectual disabilities. It is important to stress that people with mental disorders do not, in general, pose a higher risk of violence than the general population although there is considerable evidence that they are at greater than average risk of becoming victims of violence. There are, however, numerous cases of people who were in need of mental health care that they did not receive who then went on to commit acts of violence.

What needs to be done

A number of actions by governments are needed to address the risk that persons with mental and intellectual disabilities will be sent to death row and possibly executed.

  • Immediate implementation of existing standards barring the imposition of death sentences or executions on those with intellectual disabilities and those who are seriously mentally ill. The practice of executing such persons should cease immediately.
  • Renewed efforts to (i) ensure that all states have laws that embed international protections in their domestic legislation; (ii) extend protection to those with serious mental illness not covered by existing proscriptions against executing persons affected by “insanity”
  • Adoption by national medical and legal professional bodies of codes of conduct ensuring that professionals do not act unethically or unprofessionally in capital cases.
  • Ensure that adequate mental health care is available for defendants in capital cases in which mental or intellectual disabilities are claimed as a factor.
  • Work towards the reduction of stigma against persons with mental or intellectual disabilities, particularly where media reports promote inaccurate public beliefs about risks posed by such persons.

To know more about the death penalty...

... all over the world: read the Facts & figures
... and mental health: read the leaflet and the detailed factsheet

Take action to stop crime, not lives:

  1. Organize a public debate and a movie screening with exonerees, murder victim’s families, experts, to raise awareness on the reality of the death penalty
  2. Organize an art exhibition (photo, drawings, posters) or a theatre performance from Dead Man Walking to Victor Hugo
  3. Organize a demonstration, a sit-in, a ‘die-in,’ a flash mob
  4. Join the events prepared for the abolition of the death penalty worldwide
  5. Support urgent appeals and take part in social media action in the lead up to 10 October
  6. Write to a prisoner on death row
  7. Donate to the World Coalition against the Death Penalty or another group working to end the death penalty.
  8. Join an abolitionist organization
  9. Mobilize the media to raise awareness on the issue of the death penalty
  10. Participate in “Cities Against the Death Penalty/Cities for Life” on November 30, 2014

Call for initiatives

- On 10 October 2014, take action against the death penalty!
Join hundreds of initiatives organized worldwide

- Wherever you are
In Africa, America, Asia, Oceania or Europe

- Whoever you are
NGOS, teachers, lawyers, local representatives, parliamentarians, artists, reporters, religious leaders, citizens

- Whatever your plans are
Debates, concerts, press conferences, demonstrations, petitions, educational and cultural activities...

Get in touch with the World Coalition to tell us about events scheduled on October 10.


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