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Press briefing notes on DPRK and US Supreme Court ruling on death penalty

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani
Location: Geneva
Date: 30 May 2014

1) DPRK

In a resolution in March, the Human Rights Council requested the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to “follow up urgently on the recommendations made by the Commission of Inquiry” on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)” and “provide the Special Rapporteur with increased support”, including through the establishment of a field-based structure.

The field-based structure is designed to strengthen human rights monitoring and documentation as steps towards establishing accountability, and enhance engagement and capacity-building with the Governments of all concerned States, civil society and other stakeholders. It will also help maintain visibility of the human rights situation in the DPRK through sustained communications, advocacy and outreach initiatives.

Since the March resolution, consultations have continued between Member States and OHCHR about setting up this field structure in order to follow up the work of the Commission of Inquiry and implement the Council’s resolution in the most efficient and effective manner.

On Wednesday 28 May, the Republic of Korea informed OHCHR that it accepts to host the field-based structure. The location of the field structure in the Republic of Korea (ROK) has many advantages: namely proximity, a common language, unimpeded access to victims and other first-hand witnesses. ROK is also a major hub for civil society and victims groups focusing on the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The structure and its staff will, of course, be able to function there independently and in accordance with UN principles. The precise operational details are still to be finalized within the next few months, and we will be keeping other member states informed throughout the process.

The OHCHR stresses its commitment to following up the Commission of Inquiry report in order to ensure accountability of the perpetrators of gross human rights violations, including crimes against humanity and international abductions, and to help ease the ongoing sufferings of the people living in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

We are pleased that the Republic of Korea has agreed to host the field-based structure, which will provide the UN Human Rights office with a greatly strengthened capacity to work on human rights issues in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The Human rights Council adopted its resolution on the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (A/HRC/RES/25/25) on 28 March 2014: http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/alldocs.aspx?doc_id=23200

2) US Supreme Court ruling on death penalty

On Tuesday (27 May), the Supreme Court of the United States issued one of its most important rulings with regard to the use of the death penalty against people with mental and intellectual disabilities. The case involved a death row prisoner in the state of Florida.

Until now, the state of Florida has refused to review any evidence about a defendant’s purported intellectual disability unless she or he scored 70 or below on an IQ test. The defendant in this particular case had scored 71 on one IQ test. The US Supreme Court ruled in this case that it was unconstitutional to refuse to take into account mental factors other than an IQ test. The Court stated that “intellectual disability is a condition, not a number.”

The ruling will affect not only Florida, which is the state with the second-largest number of people on death row after California, but also other states that still use the death penalty in the US. Judges will now be required to take a less mechanical approach to mental disability in capital cases.

In 2002, the Supreme Court made it clear in the Atkins vs. Virginia case that no state may execute people with mental disabilities. Tuesday’s decision of the US Supreme Court in the Florida case picks up where Atkins v. Virginia left off, making it clearer now who counts as an individual with intellectual disabilities.

In its judgment, the Court also stated that: “The death penalty is the gravest sentence our society may impose. Persons facing that most severe sanction must have a fair opportunity to show that the Constitution prohibits their execution. Florida’s law contravenes our Nation’s commitment to dignity and its duty to teach human decency as the mark of a civilized world.”

We welcome the Supreme Court’s ruling as a significant step towards limiting the scope of the death penalty in the United States, and we urge US authorities to go further and to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.

ENDS

For more information or media requests, please contact Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org)

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