The United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Summary Executions and on Torture welcomed today the recommendation made by the Indian Law Commission to abolish the death penalty, and the recent decision by the Chinese authorities to reduce the number of crimes subject to the death penalty.
On 31 August 2015, the Indian Law Commission issued its report concluding that the death penalty does not serve as a deterrent and recommended its abolition for all crimes, except terrorism-related offences and waging war. The Commission had been tasked by the Supreme Court to study the issue of the death penalty in India.
“The conclusions and recommendations of the Indian Law Commission represent an important voice in favour of the abolition of the death penalty in India,” Christof Heyns said. “I encourage the Indian authorities to implement these recommendations and to move towards the complete abolition of the death penalty for all offences,” he added.
In its report, the Indian Law Commission recognized that, while on death row, the prisoner “suffers from extreme agony, anxiety and debilitating fear arising out of an imminent yet uncertain execution,” and that “the death row phenomenon is compounded by the degrading and oppressive effects of conditions of imprisonment imposed on the convict, including solitary confinement, and the prevailing harsh prison conditions.”
“The Commission recognized the immense suffering caused by the death row phenomenon as a seemingly inevitable consequence of the imposition of the death penalty; this recognition supports the emergence of a customary norm that considers the death penalty as, per se, running afoul of the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The Indian authorities should review the findings very carefully and ratify the Convention against Torture,” noted Juan Méndez.
In late August, China amended several provisions of its Criminal Law after the session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee and replaced the death penalty by life imprisonment for the following offences: smuggling of weapons, ammunition, nuclear materials and counterfeit currency; the counterfeiting of currency; fraudulently raising funds; arranging for a person or forcing a person to carry out prostitution; the obstruction of duty of a police officer; and creating rumours during wartime to mislead people.
“By adopting these amendments to its criminal code, China has made progress in the right direction; this needs to be encouraged,” the UN experts noted.
“China should take further steps towards abolishing the death penalty, a punishment which is inhumane by nature,” Juan Mendez added.
“These new developments in India and China are in line with the general trend towards the abolition of the death penalty at a global level, even if there are isolated moves in the opposite direction,” Christof Heyns added.
The experts called on the States that have not yet put in place a moratorium on the death penalty, or abolished it, to do so. “Moratoria on the use of the death penalty need to be formally established as a first step towards its complete abolition,” the experts stressed.
The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns (South Africa), is a director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa and Professor of Human Rights Law at the University of Pretoria, where he has also directed the Centre for Human Rights, and has engaged in wide-reaching initiatives on human rights in Africa. He has advised a number of international, regional and national entities on human rights issues. Learn more, log on to:
Juan E. Méndez (Argentina) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in November 2010. He is independent from any government and serves in his individual capacity. Mr. Méndez has dedicated his legal career to the defense of human rights. Learn more, log on to:
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.
UN Human Rights, country page China: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/CNIndex.aspx
UN Human Rights, country page India: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/INIndex.aspx
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