By Loïc Dorthe / GICJ 

The World Day against the Death Penalty was established by an association of NGOs, the World Coalition against the Death Penalty, in 2003. Set for the 10th of October, the aim of this day is to remind the international community to urge all states to abolish the use of the death penalty [1]. On this occasion, GICJ reaffirms its position against this inhumane practice and calls on all states to respect their international obligations.

Our own life. The most precious individual asset. Given equally at birth to every human being, this fundamental right is enshrined in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person" [2]. Therefore, taking a person's life is one of the most serious violations of human rights. The crime of killing people, however, continues to be committed by states themselves.

Two-thirds of States have abolished the death penalty from their legislation and practice. The death penalty is still legal in 55 countries, 18 of which use it officially and regularly, employing beheading, electrocution, hanging, lethal injection and shooting to kill their convicts [3]. Despite international calls to ban the practice and international instruments supporting its abolition, such as the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the use of this practice is increasing [4]. 

GICJ is particularly concerned with unreported, illegal, and arbitrary death sentences which are happening on daily basis under governmental orders in China, Iran, and Iraq. These illegal executions take place in secrecy and are therefore subject to many abuses by governmental officials, as warned by the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres: “secret trials, without due process, [are] increasing the potential for error or abuse” [5]. Moreover, death sentences where the practice is considered as legal is often accompanied by "far too much secrecy [...]. Although many countries are giving up the practice, those that retain it, nevertheless feel that they have something to hide” [5].

The death penalty violates other international human rights, such as the prohibition of torture in Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: " No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" [6]. According to the ICCPR, "the term ‘torture’ means any act by which severe pain or suffering […] is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as […] punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed” [7]. Since execution requires such pain leading to the death of the person, capital punishment is a clear form of torture, cruel and inhuman treatment. 

Finally, capital punishment must also be seen in its social context. It is often used as a tool of political oppression, to threaten the population and ensure control by a certain government. It is also subject to clear racial and socio-economic discrimination. For example, in the United States, people of African descent are overrepresented on death row, suggesting differential court decisions and the inability of some people to afford good, expensive lawyers [8]. Finally, the irreversibility of the death penalty precludes the possibility of reversing the wrongful conviction of an innocent person.

Reaffirming that the death penalty is one of the most serious violations of human rights, Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) strongly condemns this practice. As some States still legally use the death penalty, we remind these States of their international obligation and urge them to abolish it immediately. It consists of the heritage of a bygone era and has nothing to do in the world on international law and respect for human rights.


Death Penalty, Capital Punishment, Human Rights, Violations, International Obligation, Universal Declaration of Human Right, ICCPR, Crime, Geneva, Justice, Geneva4Justice, GICJ, Geneva International Centre for Justice










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