61st Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, 2005
Joint Written Statement
Item 17 of draft agenda, promotion and protection of human rights
Question of the death penalty
With reference to the Declaration adopted in Montreal, at the close of the second World Congress Against the Death Penalty on 9 October 2004, the NGOs undersigned , members of the steering committee of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, wish to express their concerns at the United Nations before its Commission on Human Rights.
The signatory organisations congratulate Senegal on its recent abolition of the death penalty and its abolition earlier in 2004 in Bhutan, Samoa and Turkey. However, they wish to protest strongly against the resumption of executions in Chad, India, Indonesia, Lebanon and the restoration of capital punishment in Afghanistan and Iraq. They condemn the continued use of the death penalty in 78 countries, notably China, Cuba, Guatemala, Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and the United States.
It is a matter of concern that the "war against terrorism" is becoming increasingly reliant on the death penalty at a time when international criminal courts are prosecuting the most serious crimes without resorting to capital punishment. Recent death sentences in Indonesia and Morocco, along with demands for the death penalty in the United States in cases against alleged terrorists, are both a sign of weakness and a fundamental error. The signatory NGOs support the Spanish and Turkish people for not demanding the restoration of the death penalty, despite the tragic attacks which they recently experienced.
The unique deterrent effect of the death penalty has never been proven. The most recent survey of research findings on the relation between the death penalty and homicide rates, conducted for the United Nations in 1988 and updated in 2002, concludes that "…it is not prudent to accept the hypothesis that capital punishment deters murder to a marginally greater extent than does the threat and application of the supposedly lesser punishment of life imprisonment."
Moreover, executions fail to heal the victims of crime’ suffering. It is therefore remarkable that more and more families of victims, notably in the United States, are speaking out against capital punishment.
The signatory NGOs also wish to denounce the racial, sexual, economic and social discrimination that influences the manner in which death sentences are imposed and carried out. They also condemn the increase in the number of crimes now punishable by death.
Abolition leads to an in-depth reflection on alternative penalties for the most serious crimes, in an effort to punish the offender while working for his or her rehabilitation.
Today, the death penalty is recognised as a violation of human rights.
There are many reminders that States have an obligation to protect the right to life of individuals within their jurisdiction, and this without exception : these include article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which affirms that every person has the right to life, article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Similarly, the second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, states that no person within a State Party’s jurisdiction will be executed and that each State Party will take all measures necessary to abolish the death penalty within its jurisdiction.
This prohibition is enforced at a regional level, notably since 1 July 2003, when Protocol 13 to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, on the abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances, came into force.
It is now accepted that the death row system constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, just like certain forms of administering the death penalty (such as hanging or asphyxia), according to a recent jurisprudence of the United Nations Committee Against Torture.
Finally, the statutes of the international crime tribunals for Ex-Yugoslavia and Rwanda, as well as the Treaty of Rome setting up the International Criminal Court, all exclude recourse to the death penalty at the international level.
The Coalition wishes to emphasise the fundamental importance of ratifying international and regional Treaties prohibiting capital punishment.
Bearing in mind that "the abolition of the death penalty contributes to the enhancement of human dignity and to the progressive development of human rights", the signatory NGOs strongly urge the UN Commission on Human Rights, in its sixty first session :
To adopt unanimously a Resolution calling for the universal abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances,
To remind member States of the United Nations that sentencing minors under eighteen years of age to death constitutes a violation of customary international law,
To call upon States that maintain the death penalty to immediately halt the imposition of the death penalty upon persons who suffer from or develop a mental illness or disability.
To call upon States that still maintain the death penalty not to extend its application to other crimes,
To call upon these States to suspend all executions, and to commute death sentences, with a view to completely abolishing the death penalty,
To retain this question on the agenda at its sixty second session in 2006.
1st February 2005.