Item 17 : The death penalty issue

janvier 2003

[français] [français]

59th Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights
17 March - 25 April 2003

Written statement by FIACAT

Item 17 of the provisional agenda :
Promotion and protection of human rights

The death penalty issue

- Having regard to Articles 3 and 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ;
- Having regard to Articles 4 §2, 6 and 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ;
- Having regard to the second optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ;
- Having regard to Articles 2 and 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms ;
- Having regard to Protocols VI and XIII to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms ;
- Having regard to Articles 6 and 37 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child ;
- Having regard to the Statutes of the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia ; Having regard to the Statute of the International Criminal Court ;
- Having regard to Resolution 2000/17 of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights adopted on 17 August 2000 ;
- Having regard to Resolution 2002/77 of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, adopted at its fifty-eighth session on 25 April 2002 ;

The FIACAT (International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture) reaffirms that "abolition of the death penalty contributes to enhancement of human dignity and progressive development of human rights" .

Since loss of life is irreversible, a miscarriage of justice is irreparable. Numerous experts in scientific fields, criminology, sociology and psychology have publicly questioned whether capital punishment really does act as a deterrent. Thus the governments of countries where it still exists should spare no effort to abolish it.

Several international courts have ruled against extradition to a country where the death penalty is in force, considering that "death row syndrome" constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

FIACAT is also particularly alarmed that countries such as China, the United States of America, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, still have in their legislation provisions whereby capital punishment may be meted out for economic and drug-related crimes.

Finally, FIACAT is extremely concerned at the increase in sentences to death by stoning in countries where the legal system is based on Islamic law (Sharia), in particular Nigeria and Sudan.

FIACAT wishes to draw attention to the following situations, in particular :

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), 30 of the 135 accused in the trial for the murder of Laurent Désiré KABILA were condemned to death on 7 January last. This verdict and the execution of fifteen people are in flagrant violation of the personal commitment President Joseph KABILA made to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in March 2001 to retain the moratorium on executions until Parliament had had time to debate the abolition of the death penalty. That debate has not taken place, but the moratorium was lifted on 23 September 2002.

In her 2003 Report, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Asma JAHANGIR, stated that, over the past few years, she had repeatedly drawn the attention of the DRC government to allegations of arbitrary, summary or extrajudicial use of the death penalty, especially in a number of cases where persons under 18 or accused of crimes committed when they had been under 18 had been condemned to death .

In addition, on 14 January 2003, Ms JAHANGIR, together with Ms Iulia-Antoanella MOTOC, expressed her concern at reports that 15 persons had been executed recently, some of them after being found guilty by a military court following unfair trials in which there were serious irregularities. Ms JAHANGIR and Ms MOTOC have therefore appealed to the President of the DRC to ensure that the safeguards and restrictions in international standards on the death penalty are respected, and to reinstate the moratorium on executions.

At least two hundred people have been executed in the DRC since 1997.

In the Philippines, contrary to the international tendency towards abolition of the death penalty, this punishment was reintroduced in 1994. Executions resumed in 1999 after twenty-three years. Philippines legislation lists over forty crimes for which the death penalty may be handed down. Ms Gloria MACAPAGAL ARROYO, the President, suspended the death penalty after she took office in January 2001, but the moratorium was lifted in October 2001. However, both experience and statistical studies have shown that reinstating this punishment has done nothing to improve the situation : crime rates, including those for the most serious crimes, have continued to rise.

Although the law bans the execution of persons aged over 70, there are currently five people aged between 71 and 78 who have been condemned to death, the oldest of them a woman.

There were 1005 prisoners on death row in the Philippines in June 2002, 28 of them women.

Since 1994, over 1700 people have been condemned to death in the Philippines.

In the United States of America, 3500 condemned persons (including some 10 women) are awaiting execution, the majority of them in Texas but some in the other 37 US States which still have capital punishment).

In 2001, the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination noted with concern a "disturbing correlation between race, both of the victim and the defendant, and the imposition of the death penalty, particularly in such states as Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas."

In January 2003, the fact that death sentences often result from miscarriages of justice led the Governor of Illinois to commute over 150 death sentences to life imprisonment.

Since executions resumed in 1977, over 820 people have been executed in the United States. (There were 5 executions between 1 and 30 January 2003 alone). The United States are still condemning to death juvenile delinquents and the mentally handicapped. The United States alone account for 70% of executions of minors recorded in the past five years.

In the light of these facts, FIACAT urges the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, at its fifty-ninth session, to :

-  Adopt a Resolution in favour of abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances,
-  Remind the Member States of the United Nations that condemning to death minors aged under 18 years constitutes a violation of customary international law ,
-  Ask countries whose legislation still provides for this sentence not to extend it to new crimes,
-  Urge these countries to declare a moratorium on executions and to commute the sentence of persons who have already been condemned, with a view to abolition of the death penalty once and for all,
-  Keep this issue on the agenda for its sixtieth session in 2004.

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