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Press briefing notes on death penalty

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Date: 05 April 2013

1) The death penalty

We are deeply concerned that a number of countries in the Middle East and Asia have recently started reapplying the death penalty after several years of moratorium, and despite the overwhelming global trend towards abolishing the death penalty. Earlier this week, three men were executed in Kuwait – the first time since May 2007 that Kuwait has carried out death sentences. Over 40 detainees remain on death row in Kuwait, and we urge the Government to commute all death sentences.

Other countries in the Middle East region which regularly carry out the death penalty are Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Iraq, and we are particularly concerned at the continued high rate of implementation of the death penalty in Iraq, where four more executions were reported to have been carried out on 1 April, taking the total number known to have been executed there this year to at least 12 (with some reports suggesting a higher number), with hundreds more people on death row. The number of people executed in Iraq in 2012 totalled 123, including 5 females, which was a massive increase over previous years, and deeply worrying in a country where there are persisting serious concerns about compliance with fair trial standards.

In Asia, the death penalty has also recently been carried out for the first time in several years in both India and Indonesia, while Japan resumed executions in 2012. An unknown number of people are executed every year in China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Iran.

Five executions have taken place so far this year in the United States.

In many cases, the death penalty involves clear violations of international norms and standards: for example when fair trial guarantees and due process are not respected, and when executions of juvenile offenders take place in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Other violations include alleged crimes that do not meet the threshold of "most serious crimes," execution after a very long period on death row, and a failure to ensure consular services are provided to foreign nationals.

In general, we appeal to all Governments concerned to take necessary measures and establish an official moratorium on all executions with the aim of abolishing the death penalty in accordance with recent General Assembly resolutions (Resolution 67/176 in 2012, 65/206 in 2010, 63/138 in 2008, and 62/149 in 2007).

In response to questions:

We are not aware of any executions taking place in Africa so far this year, although there were some reported in 2012, including in South Sudan, Sudan, Botswana and Gambia. There were no executions anywhere in Europe or the Americas, with the exception of the United States and Belarus.

On Iraq, we continue to have serious reservations about the criminal justice system, including with regard to due process, conviction based on forced confessions and trial proceedings that fall short of international standards. Even the best legal systems cannot be guaranteed to be free of error, and any miscarriage of justice cannot be undone.

ENDS
For more information or media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org)

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