Like every year, the International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (FIACAT) and its network join the World Coalition against the Death Penalty in its actions for the celebration of the World Day against the Death Penalty. On the occasion of the 12th World Day against the Death Penalty, the World Coalition is drawing attention to people with mental health problems who are at risk of a death sentence or execution.
International Human Rights Law considers that people affected by a mental illness or by an intellectual deficiency must never be sentenced to death or executed. However, prisons are becoming the mental health 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. 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 risk than average of becoming victims of violence. There are, however, numerous cases of people who were in need of mental health care but they did not receive it who then went on to commit acts of violence.
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.
Furthermore, FIACAT and all ACATs call non-abolitionist states to abolish the death penalty and the abolitionist countries to support all the initiatives in favour of its universal abolition.