Two United Nations human rights experts called on the international community to intensify global efforts to definitively move States away from the death penalty, on the occasion of the World Day Against the Death Penalty, 10 October. More than two thirds of UN Member States have already abolished the death penalty or maintain a legal or de facto moratorium on its use.
“While there is a clear trend towards the abolition of capital punishment worldwide, it is regrettable we still need to mark such a day,” said the Special Rapporteurs on extrajudicial executions, Christof Heyns, and on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez.
“There remain a number of States where people continue to be executed in contravention of the standards imposed by international law,” the experts said, while expressing deep concern about the recent resumption of executions in a number of States after long periods of observance of moratoriums. “More needs to be done to ensure stringent respect for international law in this field.”
Mr. Heyns reminded Governments of “the most serious crimes provision”, which requires that, in countries which have not abolished the death penalty, capital punishment may be imposed only for the crime of intentional killing. “It is contrary to international law to impose the death penalty for other types of crimes, such as drug-related or economic offences,” the Special Rapporteur said.
Mr. Méndez warned that the use of the death penalty could entail cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of international law. “Cruel treatment starts well before the actual execution, when the condemned person is caught between the fear of imminent death and the faint hope that a successful appeal or clemency could spare his or her life,” he said.
The experts drew special attention to the need for retentionist States to ensure that death penalty cases are subject to the most stringent respect of fair trial and due process standards, while recalling UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s words: “The taking of a life is too absolute, too irreversible, for one human being to inflict it on another, even when backed by legal process.”
Both experts presented reports, respectively on summary executions and torture, last year at the 67th session of the General Assembly on international law restrictions regarding the use of the death penalty.
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