The death penalty and the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

 August 2023


The signatory organizations are convinced that the death penalty is incompatible with the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, which is a peremptory norm of international law (jus cogens) and should thus be abolished. Indeed, in 2023, a corpus of national, regional and international jurisprudential and doctrinal sources – outlined in this position paper – attest that the death penalty, in the context of its application, falls within the definition of torture as laid out by Article 1 of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. 

This position paper shows that it has been recognised by various national, regional and international jurisprudence that at every stage of its application, the death penalty generates physical and mental suffering not only for those sentenced to death but also for their families.

This document also highlights a paradigm shift, at national, regional and international levels, leading to the death penalty itself being considered a violation of the absolute prohibition of torture. The former Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan Méndez, had already raised this issue, noting back in 2012 the emergence of a new customary norm making the death penalty contrary to the prohibition of torture in all circumstances.

Thus, in line with the recommendation made by Juan Méndez, more than ten years ago, the signatory organizations recommend that a more in-depth legal study be carried out on the link between the death penalty and the prohibition of torture, and on the emergence of a customary rule prohibiting the use of capital punishment in all circumstances. 


Signatory organizations:

1. ACAT Belgique ; 2.  ACAT Bénin ; 3. ACAT Burundi ; 4. ACAT Cameroun ; 5. ACAT Canada ; 6.  ACAT Congo ; 7.ACAT Côte d’Ivoire ; 8. ACAT Allemagne ; 9. ACAT France ; 10. ACAT Mali ; 11. ACAT Niger ; 12. ACAT RDC ; 13. ACAT Suisse ; 14. ACAT Suède ; 15. ACAT Tchad ; 16. ACAT Togo ; 17. ACAT Royaume-Uni ; 18. Academic University for Non-Violence and Human Rights (AUNOHR) ; 19. Centre Adaleh pour l’étude des droits de l’Homme ; 20. American Constitution Society (ACS) ; 21. Association Justice et Miséricorde (AJEM) ; 22. Centre de Bahreïn pour les droits de l'homme (BCHR) ; 23. Death Penalty Focus (DPF) ; 24. Ensemble contre la peine de mort (ECPM) ; 25. Fédération internationale des ACAT (FIACAT) ; 26. Coalition allemande pour l’abolition de la peine de mort (GCADP) ; 27. Greater Caribbean for Life (GCL) ; 28. Legal Awareness Watch (LAW); 29. Ligue des droits de l’Homme (LDH) ; 30. Organisation Mondiale contre la torture (OMCT); 31. Omega Research Foundation ; 32. Pax Christi Uvira ; 33. Penal Reform International (PRI) ; 34. Prisoners Future Foundation(PFF) ; 35. Redress ; 36. Réseau académique international pour l'abolition de la peine de mort (REPECAP) ; 37. SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights (SALAM DHR) ; 38. Syndicat national des agents de la formation et de l’éducation du Niger (SYNAFEN) ; 39. Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (TAEDP) ; 40. Centre des droits de l’Homme « Viasna » ; 41. Witness to Innocence (WTI) ; 42. Coalition mondiale contre la peine de mort (WCADP).