By Richard Johnson | IDN-InDepth NewsReport
GENEVA (IDN) – Since the United Nations General Assembly’s landmark vote in 2007 calling for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty, the trend against capital punishment has become stronger and stronger. An estimated 160 countries have either abolished the death penalty or no longer practice it.
While welcoming these developments, UN Secretary-General Ben Ki-moon has deplored the fact that many States still execute people with little regard to due process. “I am also deeply concerned that some States with long-standing de facto moratoriums have suddenly resumed executions, or are considering reintroduction of the death penalty in their legislation,” Ban said at an event organized by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on April 24.
A case in point is the new regulation in the Maldives – an island nation in the Indian Ocean-Arabian Sea area – that has effectively overturned a 60-year moratorium on death penalty in the country. It provides for the use of the death penalty for the offence of intentional murder, including when committed by individuals under the age of 18. The age of criminal responsibility in the Maldives is 10, but for hadd offences, children as young as 7 years old can be held responsible. Hadd offences include theft, fornication, adultery, consumption of alcohol, and apostasy.
Expressing deep concern, Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), has urged the government “to repeal the new regulations” adopted on April 27. “We urge the Government to retain its moratorium on the use of the death penalty in all circumstances, particularly in cases that involve juvenile offenders and to work towards abolishing the practice altogether,” Shamdasani told reporters in Geneva on April 29.
“According to the new regulation, minors convicted of intentional murder shall be executed once they turn 18. Similar provisions in the recently ratified Penal Code, allowing for the application of the death penalty for crimes committed when below the age of 18, are also deeply regrettable,” she said.
Under international law, those who are charged and convicted for offences they have committed while they were under 18 years of age should not be sentenced to death or life imprisonment without possibility of release, the spokesperson added.
Further, international human rights treaties, particularly the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Maldives has ratified, impose an absolute ban on the death sentence against persons below the age of 18 at the time when the offence was committed, the OHCHR spokesperson said.
Earlier, Ban noted with satisfaction at an OHCHR event in New York on April 24: “Most recently, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and the State of Washington in the United States decided to either establish a moratorium or to suspend executions. In April, Gabon and El Salvador acceded to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.”
The right to life is the most fundamental of all human rights, Ban said. The taking of life is too irreversible for one human being to inflict it on another, he added. In death penalty cases, the odds are often stacked against the poor, ethnic minorities and other minority groups, who often lack access to effective legal representation, which is frequently the most important factor in determining whether a defendant will receive the death penalty.
In some States, the race of the victim and the race of the defendant in capital cases are also major factors in determining who is sentenced to death, Ban said. The carrying out of the death penalty on persons with a mental disability is prohibited, but still takes place. Sentencing persons to death in absentia, the lack of due process and secret executions continue to mar the practices of those States that still implement the death penalty.
Ban said, the use of the death penalty for non-violent acts, including sexual relations between consenting adults, was a violation of international human rights law. “Such provisions may further encourage violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons. Foreign nationals and migrant workers also remain disproportionately affected.”
These discriminatory practices in the imposition of the death penalty reinforce even further the calls for its universal abolition, Ban said. “I call on all States that have not yet done so to ratify the Second Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.”
He added: “As we mark the Protocol’s twenty-fifth anniversary in New York later this year, let us proclaim again our utter opposition to the death penalty. It is cruel because it is final and because it disproportionately targets disadvantaged groups. Let us all do our utmost to put a final stop to this cruel and inhumane practice once and for all.” [IDN-InDepthNews – April 30, 2014]
Photo: OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani. Credit: UN Multimedia