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Press briefing note on Arkansas executions and Cambodia

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Elizabeth Throssell
Location:      Geneva
Date:  28 April 2017
Subject:    (1) Arkansas executions, (2)  Cambodia

(1) Arkansas executions

We are deeply troubled that, after a 12 year de facto moratorium on the use of the death penalty, the US State of Arkansas has executed four men in the space of eight days.

The latest prisoner to be executed by lethal injection was Kenneth Williams, who was pronounced dead at just after 11pm Thursday local time. Ledell Lee was executed on 20 April, and Marcel Williams and Jack Jones on 24 April.

We welcome the fact that the executions of four other men in Arkansas have been stayed but are deeply concerned that the death penalty has been carried out in these four cases.  The reason stated by the Governor of Arkansas for proceeding with the executions was that the State’s supply of one of the drugs used in lethal injections – midazolam - was due to expire on 30 April and it was unclear whether further supplies could be obtained.

Such an argument led to the scheduling of the executions of these men being accelerated in an arbitrary manner, with the expiration date of a drug being a determining factor. Rushing executions can deny prisoners the opportunity to fully exercise their rights to appeal against their conviction and/or sentence, and can also lead to States’ shortening their clemency processes, thereby affecting prisoners’ rights.

The use of the sedative drug midazolam in the lethal injection protocol has been criticised for failing to prevent people from suffering pain. In the last three years, botched executions have been reported related to the use of this drug in several cases, including in Alabama, Oklahoma and Ohio.

The executions in Arkansas have taken place amid the steady, and welcome, decline of the death penalty in the US, from 52 in 2009 to 20 in 2016. There have now been 10 executions so far this year.

The UN opposes the death penalty in all circumstances and we call on all Governments that retain it to establish an official moratorium on all executions with the aim of abolishing the death penalty.

(2) Cambodia

We call on the Cambodian authorities to release without delay five human rights defenders who have been in pre-trial detention for one year, and whose detention was yesterday extended for an additional six months by the investigating judge. We regret that despite an opinion by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention last November that ruled the detention of these five individuals to be arbitrary, their detention has been extended.

The five human rights defenders include four staff of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) - Lim Mony, Ny Vanda, Ny Sokha and Yi Soksan - as well as the Deputy Secretary General of the National Election Committee and former ADHOC staff member, Ny Chakrya, They face corruption charges relating to assistance they provided to a woman who was allegedly facing pressure from the authorities to give false testimony. The woman later conceded. She gave the sought testimony and claimed that the "Adhoc 5" had bribed her to lie to investigators.

The UN Working Group had concluded in November “that  the  five  individuals  were  detained as  a  result  of  the  exercise  of  their  rights  and  freedoms”, and called for their release. A number of UN Independent Experts have also urged their release, expressing their dismay about the use of criminal proceedings “as a pretext to suppress and prevent the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression and to silence human rights defenders.”

While we recognize the obligation of the investigative judge to thoroughly investigate the case, the use of pretrial detention should be the exception, rather than the rule, and be allowed only for the shortest possible time necessary, on the basis of clear evidence and valid legal reasoning. We regret that these safeguards appear not to have been followed at any of the bail hearings.


For more information and media requests, please contact Liz Throssell (+41 22 917 9466/ ethrossell@ohchr.org) or Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.or ) or Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 97 67 / rcolville@ohchr.org)

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