Published in www.ohchr.org on Dec. 23 ::
A group of United Nations human rights experts* have warned today against a growing trend towards lifting of moratorium on death penalty and the risks of overusing capital punishment for terrorism acts.
“We are alarmed about continuing removal of moratorium on death penalty as well as a policy of adopting new law punishing death penalty for acts of terrorism, which most of the time have no clear definition and may lead to serious human rights violations,” the UN Special Rapporteurs on summary execution, torture, and human rights and counter terrorism said.
“There is a real risk that the death penalty may be imposed on detainees who may have not been indicted for most serious crimes, which are crimes involving intentional killing,” they stressed.
The experts’ call comes after Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, rescinded the unofficial six-year moratorium on death penalty for non-military personnel ‘in terrorism related cases,’ following the 16 December 2014 attack by the Pakistan Taliban in Peshawar which led to the death of 148 people, almost all children. Pakistan reportedly plans to execute around 500 convicts who have exhausted all the appeals in coming weeks.
“While I express my deepest rejection of the Peshawar attack, I encourage the Government to carry out proper investigations to bring the perpetrators before the courts,” the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, said.
“I ask Pakistan to continue the moratorium on actual executions and to put in place a legal moratorium on the death penalty, with a view to its abolition”, he stressed.
Mr. Heyns drew attention to a possible overuse of anti-terrorist laws by the Pakistani authorities, which may apply death sentences for crimes which do not meet the most serious crimes requirement. “The definition of acts of terrorism in the Pakistani legislation remains very vague. Hundreds of people charged with such acts are at risk of being executed,” he warned.
A small number of other countries have also decided to remove moratorium on death penalty for terrorist acts. “The decision of these countries to remove moratorium on death penalty contradict the world trend on the abolition of the death penalty and the international human rights law,” the UN human rights experts said.
“Moreover,” the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment Juan E. Méndez said, “there is evidence of an evolving standard within international bodies and a robust State practice to frame the debate about the legality of the death penalty within the context of the fundamental concepts of human dignity and the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
“I call upon Pakistan and all States to reconsider whether the use of the death penalty per se respects the inherent dignity of the human person, causes severe mental and physical pain or suffering and constitutes a violation of the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” Mr. Méndez stated.
For the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson, “terrorism attacks should not prevent States from complying with international law which imposes stringent requirements that must be met before the death penalty may be imposed.”
“Any trial for terrorism offences which could lead to the imposition of the death penalty, including all stages before the trial and the consideration of appeals on matter of fact and law after the trial, must rigorously comply with all aspects of a fair trial, Mr. Emmerson underlined.
There is no clear statistics which may demonstrate that the reintroduction of the death penalty on the basis of deterrence, and the necessity of justice and retribution have a direct consequence on the reduction of criminality, the experts noted.
“The removal of moratorium on death penalty and the adoption of new antiterrorist legislation is a step back on the total abolition of the death penalty in the world,” they said. “Action against terrorist activities should not be reactive to increasing violence.”
(*) The experts: Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Juan E. Méndez, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Ben Emmerson, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.