Madam High Commissioner,
I would like to congratulate Angola, the State of Palestine, Kazakhstan and Armenia for joining the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), since this panel was last convened, as well as Chad and Guinea for abolishing the death penalty in law.
These developments show that the international trend is towards universal abolition, and rightfully so, since there are no good reasons to retain capital punishment any longer.
Allow me to elaborate on three of the arguments we often hear.
Deterrence is probably the most commonly heard rationale for keeping the death penalty in the last few retentionist countries. The logic is that the risk of being executed is sufficient to cause a significant number of people to refrain from committing a crime.
There is however no credible evidence that the death penalty deters crime more than other forms of punishment. Capital punishment has no unique deterrent effect on crime. It is the certainty of punishment, rather than its severity, which deters crime.
The death penalty does not make societies safer. On the contrary state executions prolong a pointless cycle of violence. Capital punishment often results in further human rights violations and also consistently and disproportionately discriminates against the poor, most vulnerable and most marginalized persons in society.
Another argument is public opinion being in favour of retaining capital punishment. The inconsistency with this argument is that it is particularly used by governments which, in fact, pay very little attention to public opinion, in countries with limited civil society space and media freedom. Very few retentionist countries share information about the number of persons sentenced to death, the charges, the number of persons on death row and the number of executions. In the absence of such vital, objective information, how can there be an informed debate?
Lastly, it is also argued that States have the sovereign right to determine their own laws and criminal justice systems and that capital punishment is not prohibited under international law.
What we see in practice though, is that in a large majority of cases people are being sentenced to death on discriminatory grounds or for specific forms of behaviour that should not be criminalised in the first place. Too often the death penalty is applied for having expressed an opinion or established a political group, for being a member of the LGBTI community, or for exercising one’s right to freedom of religion or belief – which includes the right to leave or change a religion. This criminalization is, in itself, a violation of international law.
Under the ICCPR, where death penalty is not yet abolished, it should be limited to the “most serious crimes”, a concept that covers only crimes of extreme gravity, involving intentional killing.
Thus the death penalty must never be applied on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or as a sanction against forms of conduct such as adultery, blasphemy and apostasy. Similarly, although serious in nature, drug-related, sexual or terrorist offences that do not result directly and intentionally in death can never serve as the basis for the imposition of the death penalty.
While it is undeniable that the momentum towards the abolition of the death penalty is growing worldwide, the EU is worried that, sporadically, initiatives to resume executions after long-standing moratoriums or even to reinstate the death penalty are pushed forward in some States.
The abolition of the death penalty is not a matter of “culture” or “tradition”. States from all regions of the world, with all kinds of different legal systems, traditions, cultures and religious backgrounds, have abolished the death penalty. It is purely a question of political will.
The EU calls upon those who have not yet joined the movement to show true leadership and take steps towards abolishing this cruel, inhumane and degrading practice, which makes any miscarriage of justice irreversible. Like slavery and torture, capital punishment should be consigned to the history books.