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Human Rights Council holds High-Level Panel on the death penalty

Human Rights Council
AFTERNOON

4 March 2015

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held its biennial high-level panel discussion on the question of the death penalty, focusing on regional efforts aiming at the abolition of the death penalty and challenges faced in that regard. 

Joachim Rücker, President of the Human Rights Council, recalled the words of Special Rapporteur Christopher Heyns that under international law, the death penalty was regarded as an extreme form of punishment which, if used at all, should only be imposed for the most serious crimes and only after a fair trial. While he acknowledged as President of the Council that positions differed, he expressed his personal opposition to the death penalty.

Opening the panel, Ivan Šimonović, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, said that a regional approach could contribute to the global abolition of the death penalty.  Currently, around 160 countries from all regions of the world had either fully abolished the death penalty, or did not practice it.  Despite progress, there were moves in some States towards the preservation, or even reintroduction of the death penalty, even though there was no evidence that the death penalty deterred crime.
 
Ruth Dreifuss, Former President of the Swiss Confederation, acted as moderator of the panel.  The panellists were Zainabo Sylvie Kayitesi, Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights; Stavros Lambrinidis, European Union Special Representative for Human Rights; Tracy Robinson, President of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights; Mohammed Bedjaoui, Commissioner from the International Commission against the Death Penalty; and Sara Hossain, Commissioner (Asia-Pacific) at the International Commission of Jurists.

Ruth Dreifuss, Former President of the Swiss Confederation and moderator, said that the trend toward abolition of the death penalty had accelerated quite remarkably.  The preservation of the death penalty did not guarantee lowering the levels of criminality.
 
Zainabo Sylvie Kayitesi, Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, said that since 1999 the Commission had actively worked to abolish the death penalty.  Today 23 countries in Africa could be considered de facto abolitionist, whereas only nine still carried out the death penalty. 

Stavros Lambrinidis, European Union Special Representative for Human Rights, said that Europe was committed to the abolition of the death penalty without any reservations.  In order to become a member of the European Union, a State must have abolished the death penalty among many other reforms that it would have to make. 

Tracy Robinson, President of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, said America was a region with a strong tradition of abolition of the death penalty.  The United States was the only country in the Americas that executed the death penalty, and even there, there was a shift in its use.

Mohammed Bedjaoui, Commissioner from the International Commission against the Death Penalty, said that there was no norm in international law that clearly abolished the death penalty.  This was a lacuna in international law.  The Arab Charter was no better or worse than other similar documents in the world, apart from European one which abolished the death penalty.

Sara Hossain, Commissioner (Asia-Pacific) at the International Commission of Jurists, noted specific challenges in the region and said that executions were carried out in a handful of States.  There was some hope towards abolition there.  Among the challenges were the use of the death penalty for crimes other than most serious crimes, lack of fair trial, and the imposition of the death penalty through special courts. 

In the ensuing discussion, speakers expressed concerns about the increase in the use of the death penalty worldwide and called for its abolition.  The death penalty was a violation of the right to life and of human dignity, and constituted an inhumane treatment incompatible with human rights.  Speakers expressed concerns about its irreversible nature and the fact that it had no proven deterrent effect on crime.  Other speakers were of the view that the death penalty was not a human rights issue, but rather part of the sovereign right of States to define their own justice systems.  Delegations of countries still using the death penalty underlined that this sentence was only used for the most serious crimes and with respect for guarantees of due process, and demanded that the diversity of views on this issue be taken into consideration. 

Speaking were Sierra Leone, Botswana, Saudi Arabia, Namibia, Singapore on behalf of a group of 25 countries, Timor-Leste on behalf of the Community of Portuguese-speaking countries, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Norway, Belgium, Albania, European Union, Organisation Mondiale de la Francophonie, Turkey, Paraguay, Netherlands,  Brazil, Russian Federation, Slovenia, South Africa, Republic of Moldova, Jamaica, Algeria, Mexico, Pakistan, United Kingdom, France, Portugal, Liechtenstein, Ireland, Indonesia and Sudan.  

Human Rights Commission of Malaysia – SUHAKAM, Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik, Penal Reform International, National Human Rights Institute of Morocco, Franciscans International, Amnesty International, Friends World Committee for Consultation (Quakers) and Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative also took the floor.

The Council will next meet on Thursday, 5 March, at 9 a.m. to conclude its High-Level Segment, followed by the presentation of the annual report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and an interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner. 


Opening Statements

JOACHIM RÜCKER, President of the Human Rights Council, in his introductory remarks, said that the panel discussion today would address regional efforts aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, and the challenges faced in that regard.  The President recalled the words of Special Rapporteur Christopher Heyns that under international law, the death penalty was regarded as an extreme form of punishment which, if used at all, should only be imposed for the most serious crimes and only after a fair trial.  While he acknowledged as President of the Council that positions differed, he expressed his personal opposition to the death penalty. Currently, around 160 countries in the world had either abolished the death penalty, introduced a moratorium or did not practice it.  While this was a major achievement, some States appeared to be taking steps backward and this was an issue of concern.

IVAN ŠIMONOVIĆ, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, in his opening statement, said that a regional approach could contribute to the global abolition of the death penalty.  A number of positive regional efforts had contributed to the global trend towards abolition.  For example, the Americas had witnessed the first abolition of the death penalty by Venezuela in 1867 and the adoption in 1990 of the Protocol to the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights for the abolition of the death penalty; the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights had adopted in 2014 the Cotonou Declaration which called for an end to the death penalty on the African continent; and the Council of Europe had made abolition of the death penalty a prerequisite for membership.  Currently, around 160 countries from all regions of the world had either fully abolished the death penalty, or did not practise it; in the last six months, the death penalty had been abolished in Chad, Fiji and Madagascar and in December of last year, a record number of countries had supported the General Assembly resolution calling for a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.

Despite this progress, there were moves in some States towards the preservation, or even re-introduction of the death penalty: in 2013, there had been more executing States and more victims of execution than in 2012.  Some States justified the death penalty on the grounds that it was demanded by a large majority of the population, or that without it, it was impossible to fight drug trafficking or terrorism.  However, there was no evidence that the death penalty deterred any crime; the focus of crime prevention should be on strengthening the justice system and making it more effective.  Furthermore, it was important for the retentionist States to provide public, accurate and timely figures on their application of the death penalty, as well as crime statistics, as such openness could help their scientific analysis and move public opinion in favour of abolition, based on facts, knowledge and understanding.  In closing, Mr. Šimonović said that there was no need to kill immigrants, minorities, the poor and those with disabilities to show the commitment to fight crime, and called on all to work together to improve the efficiency of the justice system without resorting to the inhuman and outdated punishment that the death penalty was.

Statement by the Moderator of the Panel

RUTH DREIFUSS, Former President of the Swiss Confederation and moderator, in her opening remarks, said that a lot of ground had been covered in the work towards the abolition of the death penalty.  That trend had accelerated quite remarkably.  About 100 countries had abolished it, 50 countries had de facto abolished it, whereas other countries were working towards abolition.  The panel would look into the most recent abolitionist efforts made by different countries.  It was important to note that the preservation of the death penalty did not guarantee lowering of the levels of criminality.  The exchange of experience among States was important, and the panel would use different testimonies on how different regions moved to abolish the death penalty. 

Statements by the Panellists

ZAINABO SYLVIE KAYTESI, Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, said that since 1999 the Commission had actively worked to abolish the death penalty.  In African countries the death penalty existed in certain legal texts, for example in the case of murders, assassinations, treason, sexual violence, and drug trafficking.  In 2005 a working group on the death penalty was created in Africa, and was mandated to work on Article 4 of the African Charter of Human Rights.  In 2012 its mandate was extended to encompass executions.  A report was presented in 2011 to accelerate public awareness about the death penalty, and to draft an additional protocol of the African Charter on Human Rights.  Regional conferences had brought together representatives of States, academia, civil society and of the African Union to discuss the matter, issuing a declaration for the abolition of the death penalty in Africa.  A draft protocol would be submitted to the General Assembly and to the States of Africa.  That protocol was very important because it would fill a legal gap in the African Charter on Human Rights.  The Commission urged African States to observe the provisions of the draft resolution, in particular those countries where the death penalty still existed in legal texts.  Significant progress had been achieved since 1999, when only 10 countries had abolished the death penalty.  Today 23 countries in Africa could be considered de facto abolitionist, whereas only nine countries still carried it out. 

STAVROS LAMBRINIDIS, European Union Special Representative for Human Rights, said that Europe was committed to the abolition of the death penalty without any reservations.  In order to become a member of the European Union a State must have abolished the death penalty among many other reforms that it would have to make.  The death penalty was not a cultural issue and never had been.  Framing the death penalty in a cultural angle was wrong.  Many different countries and cultures, from Germany to Azerbaijan, from Russia to Portugal, had abolished the death penalty.  The numbers were impressive.  From 8 countries in 1945 to 16 countries 30 years later.  Today 150 countries worldwide had abolished the death penalty.  It was easier for countries that came out of the worst atrocities.  The commitment that the Holocaust should never happen again was what had placed Europe on the forefront of the death penalty debate.  Countries that came out of regimes of dictatorships were also more likely to support the abolition of the death penalty.  Those who supported abolition of the death penalty had been accused that they supported paedophiles, drug traffickers and terrorists.  Mr. Lambrinidis stated that this was not the case.  Everyone had dignity and no one should allow any killer to turn them into a killer.  It was not their right to do this to anyone.  Every individual and every State had a dignity to defend and to protect.  It was that dignity that had rendered the decision of the European Union against the death penalty so resolute and so committed in international discussions.

RUTH DREIFUSS, Former President of the Swiss Confederation and moderator, referring to the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty and its Protocol, said that only 13 States had ratified the Protocol.  Therefore what were the chances of gaining ground and what were the challenges for the ratification of the Protocol?

TRACY ROBINSON, President, Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, stated that about half of the States of the Organization of American States (OAS) had ratified the Protocol but that did not mean that progress had not been made since 1990.  America was a region with a strong tradition of abolition of the death penalty, beginning with Venezuela.   In 2011 the Commission had published a report, and in 2013 and 2014, it had held hearings at the request of one third of the Member States of the OAS to share views about abolition. Suriname had recently announced that it was on the route to abolition.  The United States was the only country in the Americas that executed the death penalty, and even there, there was a shift in its use.  It was not public opinion or the rate of crime that induced the death penalty but rather colonial heritage.  Thirteen of the colonies had retained the death penalty.  In the United States about a third of the States had moved to abolition and public support was evident.  Judicial abolition had also been seen in 10 of the 12 Anglophone Caribbean countries.  No sentences had been made since 2008 in the Anglo-Caribbean region.

RUTH DREIFUSS, Former President of the Swiss Confederation and moderator, noted that the Arab Charter on Human Rights limited the use of the death penalty but did not abolish it fully and asked about the ongoing process in the Middle East and the North-African region to abolish the death penalty. 

MOHAMMED BEDJAOUI, Commissioner of the International Commission against the Death Penalty, said that there was no norm in international law that clearly abolished the death penalty irrespective of a person’s age, sex of physical or mental ability.  This was a lacuna in international law.  The Arab Charter was no better or worse than other similar documents in the world, apart from European one which abolished the death penalty.  That said, more could and should be expected and it could be argued that an increasing number of States had abolished the death penalty or introduced moratoriums.  Abolition was not only in the hands of public opinion, or only politicians; civil society had a role to play and in the Arab world, the space for civil society was opening up.  Often, the death penalty went hand in hand with authoritarian regimes.  It was important for the Arab world not to stand on the rim and not stand aside from the major swell in democracy that was being witnessed worldwide.

RUTH DREIFUSS, Former President of the Swiss Confederation and moderator, remarked that several States in Asia had either abolished the death penalty or introduced a moratorium, and asked about regional trends towards abolition and a general recognition of human rights that would allow progress to be made on the issue.

SARA HOSSAIN, Commissioner (Asia-Pacific) at the International Commission of Jurists, noted specific challenges in the region and said that executions were carried out in a handful of States.  Asia was the only region without a regional instrument or mechanism driving the change.  That said, there was some hope towards abolition, with several States abolishing the death penalty, a few others introducing a moratorium, two had ratified the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and others had restricted the application of capital punishment.  There were also changes in criminal procedures, the provision of safeguards for miscarriage of justice and the review of the death penalty cases by Supreme Courts.  Among the challenges were the use of the death penalty for crimes other than most serious crimes, lack of fair trial, lack of representation, lack of meaningful legal framework in many countries across the region, and the imposition of the death penalty through special courts.  Often, it was unclear when and where executions were taking place and families were not notified. 

Discussion

Sierra Leone said that consensus on this issue on the African continent was not easily reached.  Sierra Leone was committed to addressing the question of the death penalty and had had a moratorium in place since 1998.  Botswana believed that the death penalty was not a human rights issue, but lay in the sovereign right of countries to decide on their own justice system, in accordance with the will of their peoples.  Although concerns on the use of the death penalty may be legitimate, these did not justify this approach to the issue.  Saudi Arabia said that its justice system was based on Islamic Sharia, which gave rights to all its citizens and guaranteed the right to life.  The rights of victims should not be forgotten when discussing the issue of the death penalty.  Saudi Arabia only applied the death penalty in the most serious cases, with conditions of fair trial respected.  Namibia said that the abolition of the death penalty was guaranteed in its constitution, and called on all States to consider abolishing the death penalty or to establish a moratorium on executions.  Retribution could not be accorded the same weight as the right to life and dignity.

Singapore, speaking on behalf of a group of 25 countries, said that the death penalty remained an important component of their criminal justice systems and an important deterrent for crimes such as terrorism, drug offences or violent crimes.  Every State had the inalienable sovereign right to choose its legal and criminal justice systems,  including whether to retain or abolish the death penalty and the types of crimes for which the death penalty was applied, without interference by other States, taking into account their unique circumstances and threats to their societies.  Timor-Leste, speaking on behalf of the Community of Portuguese-speaking countries, said that the abolition of the death penalty contributed to strengthening human dignity and toward progressive development on human rights.  No crime merited capital punishment.  All countries were urged to adopt immediately a de facto moratorium on executions and abolish the death penalty.  Argentina was deeply committed to the abolition of the death penalty and was one of the countries that had ratified both international and regional instruments to that effect.  There was an extensive body of international research that disproved any suggestion that the death penalty had a deterrent effect on crime, said Australia, and asked how drivers for the use of the death penalty could be addressed.  Austria deeply deplored that one European country was still exercising capital punishment and renewed the call on Belarus to introduce as a first step a moratorium and so ensure that Europe was a region where no cruel or inhuman punishment was carried out and human dignity was uphold, irrespective of the gravity of the crime committed.

Norway emphasized regional efforts in abolishing the death penalty.  To that end Norway would host the sixth international congress on the abolition of the death penalty in June 2016, noting that there was a solid basis in international law for its abolition.
Belgium said that the fight against the death penalty was its priority.  Europe was the only region in the world where the death penalty was almost entirely abolished, but the work of the Council of Europe in that respect should be continued on different fronts.  Albania welcomed the panel’s discussion, noting that it firmly opposed the death penalty.  Albania abolished the death penalty almost a quarter of a century ago, and it was a priority of its foreign policy.  Human Rights Commission of Malaysia-SUHAKAM called for education of the public on the inhuman nature of the death penalty and its negative effect on the protection of human rights.  It advocated that such an outlook be extended to other offences as well, and called for a moratorium on executions, stressing that no person should be subject to torture and inhuman treatment.  Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik drew attention to the recent cases of inhuman incarceration and the lack of proper legal procedure in Pakistan, as well as to the cases of brutal executions and killings of civilians carried out by terrorist organizations.  It called on States to increase their efforts in responding to such cases.
Penal Reform International was especially interested in the wider impact of the death penalty on groups that were not generally considered to be affected.  These included children whose parents were on death row, lawyers defending persons on death row, and guards who were on duty and directly in contact with death row prisoners.

RUTH DREIFUSS, Former President of the Swiss Confederation and moderator, gave the floor back to the panellists and requested Ms. Hossain, Commissioner (Asia-Pacific) of the International Commission of Jurists, to respond to a question regarding the argument that placed human rights against national sovereignty. 

SARA HOSSAIN, Commissioner (Asia-Pacific), International Commission of Jurists, stated that it was important for those from the Asian region that all had national constitutional standards on the right to life.  These informed on how decisions were made.  Part of the criminal justice systems had come under the human right regime and national and international law to which these countries were party.  While most Asian countries did accept scrutiny, they also accepted that what happened in the national context would be subjected to a human rights regime.  These concerns were also expressed by the citizens. In Asia, there was a real concern about the issue of impunity.  While Asian countries had faced the most serious war crimes and crimes against humanity, it was important to address and not ignore that, not just by imposing the death penalty, but also by strengthening the judicial system and ensuring that there was an end to impunity.

MOHAMMED BEDJAOUI, Commissioner of the International Commission against the Death Penalty, was not convinced of the idea that the question of the death penalty was not a question of human rights.  Here they were trying to pit one thing against another: the criminal justice system against human rights.  He was not convinced by these arguments.  It could not be denied that torture was related to criminal justice; neither could it be denied that torture was related to human rights.  The right to life was an existential quality and a fundamental human right.  This was regulated by the criminal justice system.  If one was killed, this was a question of the criminal justice system.  Therefore, there could be no opposition between criminal justice and human rights.  One could not exclude the other.  In reference to the idea of a moratorium, which had been raised by the representative of Argentina, Mr. Bedjaoui, asked Ms. Robinson of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights how full coverage in other areas of the world could be achieved.  He asked her to define what the most serious crimes were in connection to the fact that part of the international community that had acceded to the Rome Statute believed that war crimes and wars against humanity should not be punishable by the death penalty. 

TRACY ROBINSON, President of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, in response to the first question stated that the Inter-American Commission continued to provide space for discussion both among and within States.  It continued to hear a sizeable number of cases emanating from the United States.  The Commission had indicated its concern about the responsiveness of the United States in that regard.  The Commission encouraged States to comply with evolving standards in the Inter-American system and strengthened the citizens’ approach as well as internal judicial effectiveness. 

RUTH DREIFUSS, Former President of the Swiss Confederation and moderator, asked how Europe had contributed to raising public awareness and presenting scientific evidence on the lack of deterrence in the application of the death penalty.  

STAVROS LAMBRINIDIS, European Union Special Representative for Human Rights, said that the first thing Europe had done was a very practical thing, which was banning the export of any substances used for executions, which meant that executions by chemical means could not take place any more.  Alternate means of executions had to be used, which exposed the ugliness.  It would be also useful that all persons in the chain of the death penalty be obligatorily present at the execution.  The first human rights guidelines published in the history of Europe were on the death penalty, and there were 11 guides now, containing instructions to embassies around the world on how to address the issue and which arguments to use.  The argument that transcended geography, history or culture and focused on the social injustice and political repercussions of this punishment might be persuasive. 

RUTH DREIFUSS, Former President of the Swiss Confederation and moderator, asked about the progress in the drafting of the African protocol on the abolition of the death penalty and what could be done to improve the number of ratifications of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

ZAINABO SYLVIE KAYITESI, Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, concerning progress on the Protocol of the abolition of the death penalty in Africa, said that the Commission had already reviewed the draft in its most recent session, during which some comments and amendments had been made.  It was hoped that the Commission would adopt the draft at its next regular session in April, after which it would be sent on to the African Union for study in view of adoption.  With regard to the Optional Protocol, 10 countries had ratified it, which was not too many for the 57 States in the continent; further work was needed to raise awareness.  Ratification was the first step in changing national legal frameworks and the Commission was working with civil society and national human rights institutions to this end.

European Union said that atrocities perpetrated by ISIL shocked everyone, but believed that the death penalty was not the right answer.  The guidelines on the death penalty illustrated the European Union’s commitment to support the abolition of the capital punishment worldwide.  Organisation Mondiale de la Francophonie welcomed the positive trend towards the abolition of the death penalty in the French-speaking world, and encouraged all its members to ratify the second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  Turkey said that the right to life was enshrined in international human rights law, and Turkey had undertaken to abolish the death penalty in law after a two-decade long moratorium.  Turkey had signed a joint declaration calling for the universal abolition of the death penalty.  Paraguay said the right to life was essential, and underlined that the criminal system had to aim at the rehabilitation of sentenced persons.  The death penalty was too irreversible and Paraguay joined the call for its universal abolition.  Netherlands was deeply concerned about cases where the scope of application of the death penalty had been increased.  The death penalty was not compatible with human rights.  This was not a cultural issue.  The Netherlands called for the universal abolition of the death penalty.   

Brazil welcomed the exchange of views in the panel, noting that the moratorium on the death penalty and its abolition would improve the protection of human rights and promotion of inclusive societies.  There was no proven link between the death penalty and reduction of crime rates.  Russian Federation said it established a temporary moratorium on the death penalty in 1995 and the Constitutional Court was considering moving towards its abolition.  However, the Government objected to the imposition on other States the abolition of the death penalty through legal instruments.  Slovenia regretted that the death penalty was still carried out by certain countries, and that it was applied to women and children under the age of 18.  It stressed the role of regional organizations in its abolition. 
South Africa said it had declared the death penalty unconstitutional in 1995 as it infringed on human rights and dignity.  The State as a role model for society had to take the lead in demonstrating regard for human life and dignity.  Republic of Moldova reminded that the case of Europe illustrated the fundamental role played by regional and multilateral organizations in advancing the abolition fight.  Yet, challenges remained and thus the panellists were asked to elaborate on the role of the judiciary in order to advance the discussion on the death penalty.  Jamaica reminded that the death penalty was not prohibited by international law or customary international law.   Jamaica had not carried out an execution since 1988 and a de facto moratorium was in effect.  Nevertheless, in 2008 the Parliament voted to retain it. 

Algeria had been observing a de facto moratorium on the death penalty since 1993 and had engaged in a process of reduction of the application of the death sentence.  The Constitution had accorded the President the right to pardon, and this prerogative had been used to turn death sentences to prison terms.  National Human Rights Institute of Morocco stated that Morocco had been practicing a moratorium on the death penalty since 1993. Nevertheless, courts continued to pronounce the death sentence and currently there were 120 prisoners condemned to death.  The Institute encouraged Moroccan authorities to move towards abolition of the death penalty.  Franciscans International stated that the death penalty was a serious problem in Asia where it was still used by many countries.  Franciscans International urged States that enforced the death penalty, in particular Indonesia, to adopt a moratorium and grant mercy to inmates on death row.  Amnesty International was concerned about the application of the death penalty to crimes that were not “most serious” such as drug-related offences in Asia and asked what steps could regional originations take to ensure that international safeguards were respected.

Mexico said it had actively campaigned in favour of the abolition of the death penalty, and had been a member of several regional and international initiatives on this issue.  The death penalty, when applied, had to be used only in exceptional cases and with the highest standards of due process.  Pakistan highlighted that there was no international consensus on the issue of the death penalty, and that each country had the sovereign right to decide on its own judicial system, including the death penalty for the most serious crimes.  United Kingdom noted the global trend toward the universal abolition of the death penalty, and expressed concerns about the death penalty being used for drug-related crimes.  It noted that the death penalty had no proven deterrent effect for those crimes.   France considered universal abolition of the death penalty a priority, as it believed that the death penalty was a violation of the right to life.  This was not a cultural issue, France noted, calling on countries to participate in the forthcoming regional congress against the death penalty in Kuala Lumpur.  Portugal opposed the use of the death penalty in all cases as it was a violation of the right to life, had no deterrent effect and was irreversible.  Portugal was concerned that countries had resumed executions after years of moratorium.  Liechtenstein considered the death penalty an inhumane treatment.  Wrongful convictions existed, which was incompatible with its irreversible nature.  The trend towards its universal abolition was clear. 

Ireland stated that the death penalty was irreversible and irreparable in nature.  It advocated that the capital punishment not be imposed on persons with mental disabilities, and insisted that those States which still applied this punishment respected the right of persons to a fair trial.  Indonesia ensured that due process of law was fully observed in the imposition of the death penalty.  Between 2008 and 2013, Indonesia had unilaterally implemented a moratorium on the death penalty.  If they had to reintroduce the death penalty, it was simply because they were dictated by the aggravated situation affecting their society as a result of those crimes.  Sudan noted that the death penalty debate did not enjoy consensus, adding that the principle of non-interference in a country’s internal affairs had to be respected.  The purpose of the death penalty was to deter the most serious crimes and threats to the right to life of others.  Friends World Committee for Consultation (Quakers) said that the panel discussion should also include consideration of the human rights of children of parents sentenced to death or execution, and to gain a regional perspective on that issue.  The Committee asked the panellists to reflect on this issue.  Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative thanked the panellists for urging States to curtail the death penalty and establish a moratorium.  Despite progress made in the abolition of the death penalty, the Commonwealth observed that millions of people lived in countries where executions were still carried out. 

ZAINABO SYLVIE KAYITESI, Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, said that when States proceeded with executions, this was killing.  Usually States should preserve the lives of their citizens so that the whole process towards abolition was hand in hand with the respect of sovereignty of States. On the rights of children in the application of the death penalty to their parents, the African Commission was fully aware of the negative psychological implications. 

STAVROS LAMBRINIDIS, European Union Special Representative for Human Rights, said that once a person began feeling that the death penalty was a violation of their own dignity - that they had been turned into killers by killers – it was easier to see the perverse scientific rationale behind the death penalty.  It was easier to see how it killed innocent people.  Therefore, it was peoples’ dignity that the death penalty violated.  With regards to public opinion, this was not a correct approach to look at, as it changed frequently.  Greek public opinion following the fall of the dictatorship in 1974 had been in favour of the death penalty; however it had quickly turned in favour of life in prison.  In response to the questions of Amnesty International, the European Union did work with victims’ families, and those did not necessarily favour the death penalty.  The European Union did keep a track of the number of European Union nationals facing the death penalty in other countries.

TRACY ROBINSON, President of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, reiterated the commitment of the Inter-American Commission of States with a view to respect human rights of all and called attention to impunity as one of greatest issues facing the Americas.  The real focus had to be on judicial effectiveness, or the duty of States to exercise due diligence.  Ms. Robison welcomed the progress of States in the Americas which had abolished the death penalty, and called on the substantial minority to eliminate the death penalty.  These were 13 of the former British colonies.  The Inter-American Commission would continue to move forward on this issue and initiatives of States were welcome.

MOHAMMED BEDJAOUI, Commissioner of the International Commission against the Death Penalty, stated that the success of texts depended on the people implementing the texts.  It was striking when looking at the situation in the world – virtually all criminal codes worldwide were excellent; however it was the way in which they were implemented by men that was problematic. That was why good practices, expertise, and efforts to ensure the coherent interpretation of texts, were very important.  Regarding the Arab world and those who tried to interpret the death penalty, it had to be known that the death penalty was radically incompatible with Islam.  The Islamic principles of pardon and forgiveness were stressed by the Koran.  Moratoria had a perverse effect.  Some countries in North Africa where there were moratoria had made magistrates and judges look at the death penalty in a less serious manner.  Therefore, it was necessary to highlight the danger of moratoria and to ask countries with a moratorium to abolish it.  There was no point in condemning people to death if the actual execution would never be carried out. 

SARA HOSSAIN, Commissioner (Asia-Pacific) at the International Commission of Jurists, said that there were opportunities for progress on the Asian continent, including forums where discussions could take place and civil society could engage.  Addressing the death penalty was an issue of social justice. 

RUTH DREIFUSS, Former President of the Swiss Confederation and moderator, noted that remarkable progress had been made, but repeated that concerns remained, particularly for those countries that had taken the decision to reintroduce the death penalty.  Concerns remained also with regard to the use of the death penalty for crimes that were not the most serious crimes, including for silencing political dissent.  She regretted the lack of transparency regarding the use of the death penalty in some countries, and expressed concern about a mandatory death penalty in some cases. 


For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC15/015E