For the 25th anniversary of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Death penalty abolition
29 October 2014
Death penalty: Keep momentum on abolition, UN Human Rights Committee urges States
GENEVA (29 October 2014) – The UN Human Rights Committee is calling on States to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty. The use of capital punishment has declined significantly in the 25 years since the Second Optional Protocol was adopted. The Human Rights Committee, which monitors implementation of the Covenant, welcomes this progress but urges all States not merely to halt executions but to actively commit to abolishing this affront to human dignity and the right to life.
“On the 25th anniversary* of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, the Human Rights Committee, guardian of this treaty, continues to press for abolition.
Since the adoption of the Second Optional Protocol, progress towards the prohibition of executions has accelerated significantly. Eighty-one States have ratified the Optional Protocol, while another 79 States have either abolished the death penalty, or do not practise it. The Committee recognises this international trend towards abolition and welcomes the ratifications this year by El Salvador, Gabon and Poland.
Even as early as 1982, the Committee was of the view that, “all measures of abolition should be considered as progress in the enjoyment of the right to life”**.
While the right to life article of the Covenant (article 6) does allow for the death penalty in certain very restricted cases, the Committee’s experience demonstrates that it is extremely rare for any case to comply with the strict provisions of this article. In fact, most death penalty cases have also involved violations of other provisions of the Covenant, notably those relating to due process guarantees as well as torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. This issue is not, as some States persist in asserting, merely one of domestic criminal policy, but goes to the heart of the most fundamental human right: the right to life. That is why the world’s abolitionist treaty obligation is contained in a protocol to a human rights treaty.
In its dialogues with States this year, the Committee has continued to encourage abolition and has systematically referred to the 25th anniversary in its Concluding Observations, while encouraging States to ratify the Second Optional Protocol. This includes States which have retained the death penalty in law but have a moratorium on the death penalty or are no longer carrying out executions in practice. Some such States were reviewed by the Committee at its latest session, and one committed to ratifying the Second Optional Protocol soon.
It is important that even States which no longer carry out executions ratify the Second Optional Protocol. This is because the treaty obligation would prevent them from easily restoring the death penalty in the future. It would require a State to withdraw from the Protocol before any reinstatement. Ratification helps it resist any public clamour for a return to this horrific practice.
The Human Rights Committee supports the aim for universal ratification of the Second Optional Protocol and encourages all relevant States to act upon the steady momentum towards abolition. In this context, the Committee decided at this session to adopt its next General Comment on the right to life (article 6).”
* Second Optional Protocol was adopted and proclaimed by General Assembly resolution 44/128 of 15 December 1989
** General Comment on article 6, on the right to life (16th session, 1982): http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=INT%2fCCPR%2fGEC%2f6630&Lang=en Article 6 of the ICCPR : 1. Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life. 2. In countries which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes in accordance with the law in force at the time of the commission of the crime and not contrary to the provisions of the present Covenant and to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This penalty can only be carried out pursuant to a final judgement rendered by a competent court. 3. When deprivation of life constitutes the crime of genocide, it is understood that nothing in this article shall authorize any State Party to the present Covenant to derogate in any way from any obligation assumed under the provisions of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. 4. Anyone sentenced to death shall have the right to seek pardon or commutation of the sentence. Amnesty, pardon or commutation of the sentence of death may be granted in all cases. 5. Sentence of death shall not be imposed for crimes committed by persons below eighteen years of age and shall not be carried out on pregnant women. 6. Nothing in this article shall be invoked to delay or to prevent the abolition of capital punishment by any State Party to the present Covenant.