- Suryansha Shikhar Singh
Lloyd Law College
With the onset of social evolution and advancement of technologies, a consensus was formed among nations after World War II, that certain practices can no longer be tolerated. Death Penalty was one such act. In 1986, 46 countries had abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes.
Death penalty, in a way on national and international spectrum, breaches human rights, in particular the right to life and the right to live free from torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. Both these rights are protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN in 1948. Sixteen years later after the adoption of the said Declaration, the number of countries in the same category had almost doubled to 89. The reasons why countries have abolished the death penalty in increasing numbers, vary. For some nations, it was a broader understanding of human rights. Spain abandoned the last vestiges of its death penalty in 1995, stating that: "the death penalty has no place in the general penal system of advanced, civilized societies. What more degrading or afflictive punishment can be imagined than to deprive a person of his life?" And for some it is a critical question of human rights issue. The different execution techniques followed are
[4.] Lethal Injection
In 1997, the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights approved a resolution stating that the abolition of the death penalty contributes to the enhancement of human dignity and to the progressive development of human rights.That resolution was strengthened in subsequent resolutions by a call for a restriction of offences for which the death penalty can be imposed and for a moratorium on all executions, leading eventually toabolition. The United States is a country that prides itself with having strong constitutional procedural safeguards regulating the capital punishments and has efficient and effective judicial system to ensure deliverance of the correct and just verdict. But even in this jurisdiction, appellate courts have reversed numerous death sentences based on procedural and evidentiary errors in the trial courts. As of 2020, most known executions took place in China, Iran, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
Other than this, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (hereinafter referred to as ‘ICCPR’) contains numerous provisions for safeguarding the right of an accused against capital punishment. Article 6 of the ICCPR clearly states that the death penalty cannot be imposed if a fair trial has not been granted. The UN Human Rights Committee has interpreted this to mean that all provisions contained within the ICCPR must be upheld and, if this is not the case, the death penalty cannot be imposed. Recognized international fair trial standards include but are not limited to: the presumption of innocence; being informed promptly and in detail of all charges; the right to appoint counsel of one's own choosing; sufficient time to prepare a defence; to be tried without undue delay by an independent, impartial tribunal; and the right to review by a higher tribunal.
The death penalty cannot be imposed when other rights protected by the ICCPR have been breached. For instance, the opinion that the death penalty constitutes a breach of the right to freedom from torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is gaining ground. This breach of human rights may occur in the period leading up to execution, the method of execution or the loss of life itself.
[1.] Randa 1997.
[2.] Amnesty international global report; death sentences and executions 2017.
[3.] Amnesty international global report; death sentences and executions 2017.
[4.] R. Hood, The Death Penalty: A World-wide Perspective.
[5.] Oxford Round Table U.S. Death Penalty and International Law, p. 3
[6.] Los Angeles Times; June 7, 1995.
[7.] Universal declaration of human rights.
[8.] Susan Munroe, “Abolition of capital punishment in Canada: Canadian murder rate stays low without capital punishment”.
[9.] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2011 Global Study on Homicide: Trends, Contexts, Data (Vienna, 2011), p. 33.
[10.] A Blow to Human Rights: Taiwan Resumes Executions: The Death Penalty in Taiwan, 2010 (Taipei: Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty, 2011), p. 15.
[11.] “Table 1.02: Offences initially recorded as homicide by outcome, 1999/00 to 2009/10”, in Homicide, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence 2009-10, Home Office Statistical Bulletin 01/11 (2011).
[12.] Mark Warren, The Death Penalty in Canada: Facts, Figures and Milestones (London, Amnesty International, 2005).
[13.] Jeffrey A. Fagan, Capital Punishment: Deterrent Effects and Capital Costs (New York, Columbia University School of Law, 2014).