UNITED NATIONS COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS Fifty-eighth session, item 11 (b)
STATEMENT BY Ms. ASMA JAHANGIR SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON EXTRAJUDICIAL, SUMMARY OR ARBITRARY EXECUTIONS
Chairperson, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Firstly, I wish to express my regret that this year I have not been able to produce an addendum summarizing country situations, because of severe cuts in the staff supporting my mandate. I hope to submit this document soon with the additional resources put at my disposal.
During the period under review, I carried out two missions. The first one was to Turkey from 19 February to 1 March 2001, and the second to Honduras from 6 to 16 August 2001. The addendum to my report (E/CN.4/2002/74/Add.1) contains my observations from my visit to Turkey. Reports of extrajudicial killings in Turkey continue to reach me, though the numbers are now very few. But there is a serious problem of impunity for security forces, which needs to be addressed. My report on Honduras will be submitted in a few weeks. It mainly concerns extrajudicial executions of children. I warn that the right to life of children has not been a matter of sincere concern to many governments, and there is a huge gap between rhetoric on the one hand and cohesive policy planning and action for the rights of the child on the other.
During my field visits and meetings with non-governmental organizations it is increasingly apparent that these organizations and members of civil society are not well acquainted with the United Nations human rights mechanisms and their working methods. I strongly encourage international organizations and other pertinent actors to support initiatives aimed at raising awareness of the United Nations human rights mandates and programme.
The experience of the mandate in regard to the respect for restrictions and standards pertaining to the use of the death penalty has not been encouraging on many accounts. Over the last year I have intervened in numerous cases, in which juvenile offenders had been sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were under the age of eighteen. In other cases, restrictions on the use of the death penalty against persons suffering from mental handicap or illness had been violated. Offences that do not constitute “most serious crimes” have been awarded the death penalty. In this connection, I wish to note that many retentionist countries do not have independent legal systems to ensure that restrictions and standards pertaining to capital punishment are respected. During the last year, I have on several occasions called for better transparency surrounding the punishment by death and its execution. No reliable statistics are available in a number of countries, and there is little chance of monitoring domestic guidelines ensuring that the relevant safeguards are being observed. But there have been some positive developments.
The courts and mechanisms for clemency in national jurisdictions are getting increasingly cautious in passing, accepting or confirming death sentences. Following this trend, the State of North Carolina passed a law banning death penalty for mentally disturbed persons. Another positive development is the ruling of the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal holding mandatory death penalty as unconstitutional.
The situation regarding extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions remains grim particularly in areas of armed conflict. The majority of such conflicts occur as a result of ethnic and religious tensions, which remain either unaddressed or suppressed until they erupt in violence. Situations of armed conflict which drag on for long periods of time are particularly disturbing as their resolution gets more and more complicated, and the authorities become increasingly reluctant to take up the difficult challenge to restore peace. Governments and key international bodies must as a matter of urgency explore ways of addressing situations of emerging conflict and violence at an early stage, so that the lives and security of innocent civilians can be protected. An encouraging development has occurred in Sri Lanka and a ceasefire has been declared. I hope that efforts for reconciliation will include bringing to justice the perpetrators of extrajudicial or other killings.
My mandate only allows me to intervene when the perpetrators are believed to be government agents or to have a direct or indirect link to the government. I did follow these limitations and warned of the increasing power assumed by militant non-state actors, mostly supported or protected by governments or recognized political authorities. I had hoped that decision makers would recognize the enormity of the situation and address it effectively without resorting to excessive use of force, and without violating the basic and fundamental norms of human rights, which are the only guarantee for peace and the right to life. Regrettably, in the aftermath of the tragic events of September 11, some Governments have taken advantage of the heightened concerns for security to indulge in extrajudicial killings with vengeance and endeavouring to justify it in a self-righteous manner.
In this regard, I have also continued to follow the situation in the Occupied Territories and Israel with deepening concern. The spiral of violence and revenge must be broken. The allegations submitted to the Israeli Government describe cases of indiscriminate use of force in which ordinary civilians, including women and children, were shot dead when they were taking shelter in their homes, waiting at checkpoints in their cars or simply walking down the street. The practice of killing persons belonging to various Palestinian organizations in so-called “pre-emptive” strikes by Israeli forces must be strongly condemned as grave human rights violations. During the last year, I also intervened in three cases of killings of civilians, including one minor, due to indiscriminate and excessive use of force, including fire-arms, by security forces controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
The situation in Myanmar requires immediate international attention. Reports describe harrowing scenes in which government soldiers summarily execute civilians, with complete impunity. During the period under review, one hundred and fourteen cases of alleged extrajudicial killings by security forces were submitted to the Government. Fifty-two of these persons were women, many of whom were reportedly raped and tortured before being beaten or shot dead. Eighteen of the victims were allegedly children under the age of 18, with the two youngest ones being only four years of age.
In my report, I have expressed alarm over a large number of deaths in custody reported to have occurred in China.
Violations of the right to life perpetuate in countries where the democratic system does not exist or where it is in its infancy. Poor governance makes Governments dependent on security forces to control the crime rate or other forms of violence, or even dissent, through violent means, which invariably raises the risk of extrajudicial executions.
It is a cause for grave concern that in some countries impunity for serious human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, has become systematic and institutionalised. Impunity is the result of a flawed legal system, in particular where the judiciary is incompetent or lacks independence and integrity. In some cases, impunity is the direct product of laws. During my country visits, I have noted that laws extending immunity to parliamentarians and other public officials had tempted many leaders of criminal gangs to enter politics simply to hide behind such laws, thus polluting democratic political systems.
Human rights can best be respected in a culture of democracy, and no democratic process is sustainable without the support of an independent legal and judicial system. Without these basic ingredients, the right to life cannot be guaranteed. This has also been the consistent message of the United Nations High Commissioner during her term in office. I take this opportunity to assure her that her voice has reached far and wide, and to compliment her on the leadership she provided to the human rights movement.