Posted by: lauraannwilson | March 5, 2015

LIVE BLOG – Human Rights Council 28th Session Biennial High-level Panel Discussion on the Question of the Death Penalty 4 March 2015

This blog provides highlights from the Human Rights Council 28th Session Biennial High-level Panel Discussion on the Question of the Death Penalty 4 March 2015. Australia delivered a statement during this session.

As background, the session runs for 3 hours. The panelists speak. The Member and Observer countries and NGOs and National Human Rights Institutions are then able to make statements. The session is designed to be a dialogue.

Chair: H.E. Mr. Joachim Ruecker, President of the Human Rights Council
Opening remarks: Mr. Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights
Moderator: Ms. Ruth Dreifuss, Former President of the Swiss Confederation

Panelists:
• Ms. Zainabo Sylvie Kayitesi, Chairperson, African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
• Mr. Stavros Lambrinidis, European Union Special Representative for Human Rights
• Ms. Tracy Robinson, President, Inter-American Commission of Human Rights
• Mr. Mohammed Bedjaoui, Commissioner, International Commission against the Death Penalty
• Ms. Sara Hossain, Commissioner (Asia-Pacific), International Commission of Jurists

Brief Summary of Comments

Panelists all commented that progress had been made on the question of the death penalty and that more work needed to be done. Šimonović and Robinson highlighted that colonialism played a key role in the death penalty. Šimonović stated that while the death penalty needed to be addressed, the first step is for countries to address their respective justice systems. Kayitesi stated that the African Commission on People’s Rights (ACPR) had worked consistently towards removing the death penalty as a punishment in the African region. She stated that in 1999 only 10 countries in the African region had abolished the death penalty. However, today there are 23 African countries that are considered abolitionists. Furthermore, only 9 African countries today had carried out death penalties. She reiterated that these figures demonstrated ‘real progress’ on the issue of death penalty abolition. Robinson stated that in the Americas there had been some progress since the 1990s. She stated that ‘the situation is not static’ and there had been progress on the death penalty. She highlighted that there has been a ‘shift in public attitude’ in the US. Hossain reiterated that wrongful convictions, limited access to information on death penalty sentences and sentences that had been carried out, are of primary concern in the Asian region. She stated that victims’ voices, particularly the victim’s children, must be heard in all discussions regarding abolition.

Having regard to the country and NHRI statements, several speakers, including Australia, Ireland, Brazil, Liechtenstein and Amnesty International, highlighted that empirical research demonstrated that the death penalty was not an effective deterrent to criminal behaviour. Several countries called for countries that had not yet ratified the ICCPR to do so with urgency. Several countries, including Timor-Leste (on behalf of Community of Portuguese Countries) and Slovenia, called on countries that had not yet abolished the death penalty to establish a moratorium on the death penalty, with the view towards the total abolition of the practice. Several countries, including Pakistan, Indonesia, Singapore and Russia, resisted calls for total abolition of the death penalty. These countries recognised state sovereignty to determine its laws and justice practices. Pakistan noted that it had recently lifted that country’s moratorium on the death penalty.

Key highlights from the session

Panelists

Mr. Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights
Šimonović stated that while the death penalty needed to be addressed, the first step is for countries to address their respective justice systems. He cited empirical research which demonstrated that the more that the population is educated on the death penalty, the less support is provided for it. He highlighted that colonialism played a key role in the death penalty. He stated that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights planned to host regional seminars on the death penalty. These seminars would be aimed at high level persons. These regional seminars would hopefully lead to additional publications on the death penalty. He stated that ‘we can do better’ and stated that the world needed to work together to abolish this ‘outdated practice’.

Ms. Ruth Dreifuss, Former President of the Swiss Confederation
Ms Dreifuss stated that there has been some progress on the abolition of the death penalty. She noted that the panellists would examine the most recent efforts to abolish the practice.

Ms. Zainabo Sylvie Kayitesi, Chairperson, African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Ms Kayitesi stated that the African Commission on People’s Rights (ACPR) had worked consistently towards removing the death penalty as a punishment in the African region. She stated that the death penalty had been used as a penalty for homicide, drug trafficking and sexual assault crimes. She stated that in 2005 the ACPR’s work led to a Working Group which had been mandated to work towards the right to life. She stated that the African Commission prepared a draft protocol on the abolition of the death penalty. The draft was reviewed in February 2015 and would then shortly be adopted. She also highlighted steps taken by the African Commission which included dialogue between states. These discussions focused on countries where the death penalty was still used as a punishment. She stated that in 1999 only 10 countries in the African region had abolished the death penalty. However, today there are 23 countries that are considered abolitionists. Furthermore, only 9 countries today have carried out death penalties. She reiterated that these figure demonstrated ‘real progress’ on the abolition of the death penalty.

Mr. Stavros Lambrinidis, European Union Special Representative for Human Rights
Mr Lambrinidis stated that the EU is deeply committed to the abolition of the death penalty and highlighted that it is a condition of EU membership. He reflected on a recent ASEAN conference and study. He reflected on the role of culture and the death penalty. He strongly stated that ‘culture has nothing to do with the death penalty’. He stressed his frustration with debates that linked culture with the death penalty. He raised the question that if culture had nothing to do with the death penalty, why was the death penalty still a punishment in many European countries? He stated that the holocaust, countries transitioning from arbitrary government regimes and other tragedies may have contributed to why many European countries continue to implement the death penalty. He reiterated that ‘everyone has dignity’. He said that all States had the obligation to ‘defend dignity’.

Ms. Tracy Robinson, President, Inter-American Commission of Human Rights
Robinson stated that in the Americas there had been some progress since the 1990s. She stated that ‘the situation is not static’ and there had been progress on the death penalty. She highlighted that there has been a ‘shift in public attitude’ in the US. She highlighted that colonialism played a key role in the death penalty. She stated that in the Americas, the colonised countries had retained the death penalty. She stated that no death sentences had been carried out in the Anglophone countries of the Americas since 2008.

Mr. Mohammed Bedjaoui, Commissioner, International Commission against the Death Penalty
Mr Bedjauoi stated that the death penalty appeared to ‘go hand in hand with authoritarian regimes’.

Ms. Sara Hossain, Commissioner (Asia-Pacific), International Commission of Jurists
Ms Hossain reiterated that wrongful convictions, limited access to information on death penalty sentences and sentences that had been carried out, are of primary concern in the Asian region. She stated that victims’ voices, particularly the victims’ children, must be heard in all discussions regarding abolition.

Member States and Observer States – Statements

Indonesia
Speaker stated that the death penalty cannot be viewed through a single lens. He stated that the issue of the death penalty has been strongly debated in that country. He stated that in Indonesia only the most heinous crimes attract the death penalty and these crimes included drug trafficking and terrorism.

Sierra Leone
African Union (AU) was able to achieve consensus on death penalty. African Commission tasked by AU to work towards abolition. Speaker noted that there had been a moratorium in place since 2007. There is ‘a lot of political will on the African continent’ on the issue.

Botswana
Death penalty is an issue for each country’s justice system. Each country has the right to decide its own justice system and that this premise should have underpinned this session. Each country should have its sovereign rights respected. In Botswana, the ‘death penalty is reserved only for the most serious crimes’. Botswana provided legal aid to people on death penalty convictions. Botswana ‘does not see the added value of this event, especially given the limited resources of the HRC’.

Saudi Arabia
Extended support to the Statement made by Singapore. Speaker reiterated that sharia law is the basis for that country’s domestic law. Sharia law provided for the right to life. Speaker reiterated that the world must consider the victims of crimes. The speaker stated that the death penalty in that country is only applied in the most serious cases that undermined the rights of society. The speaker stated that the death penalty is only imposed after the accused had progressed through a fair trial. Saudi Arabia renewed its commitment to the rights of victims and the rights of those accused of committing crimes.

Namibia
Speaker reiterated provisions in that country’s constitution that protects the right to life. He noted with satisfaction the reduction of death penalties and increased progress in the African region to abolish the death penalty. He reiterated that justice must be restorative and reformative. He stated that ‘an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind’.

Singapore (on behalf of group of 24 countries)
Speaker stated that mutual dialogue and respect for other countries is needed. He stated that the rights of victims must supersede the rights of perpetrators of crime. He stated that there is no international resolution on the use of the death penalty. The speaker reiterated that the UN Charter stated that States should not interfere in other State matters.

Timor-Leste (on behalf of Community of Portuguese Countries)
Speaker reiterated that we should look at the death penalty through a human rights lens. He reiterated concern regarding the rise of executions in countries that have the death penalty. He stated that the death penalty is a violation on the right to life. He called on all states that have not yet done so to abolish the death penalty and establish a moratorium on executions.

Argentina
Speaker stated that the country is committed to the abolition of the death penalty. The country is a part of the support group to abolish the death penalty. The country is ‘working tirelessly’ on the matter of a citizen who is under death row in Texas. The country had been amicus curie in a recent court matter in Texas on this particular case.

Australia
Australia strongly asserted that the death penalty is an inhumane form of punishment. Australia stated that it strongly supported international abolition of the death penalty. Australia welcomed the global trend towards total abolition of the death penalty. Australia raised the issue of the death penalty in the Asian Pacific region. Australia stated that there were deep challenges within the region and that there is a ‘real risk in backsliding on progress’. Australia reiterated research that demonstrated that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent to crime.

Austria
Speaker stated that at least 3 people have been killed in Belarus. Speaker called on Belarus to implement a moratorium on the death penalty. He stated that the ‘irreversibility of the death penalty is reason enough to abolish’ the practice. He reiterated that research had demonstrated that the death penalty was not a good deterrent to criminal behaviour.

Albania

Speaker stated that since the 1990s, human rights had been a top priority in that country. She stated that regional and multilateral efforts are required to abolish the death penalty. She reiterated that research demonstrated that death penalty is not an effective deterrent.

For more information and to watch the sessions, please visit: http://webtv.un.org/


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