Why is the death penalty considered controversial
The right to live
The right to life is protected in Article 6 of the ICCPR. It says: “Everyone has an innate right to life. This right must be protected by law. Nobody may be arbitrarily robbed of their life. "
There are no legitimate restrictions on the fundamental human right to life. It is only possible to revoke the right to life under very specific exceptions. These exceptions relate, on the one hand, to the death penalty in countries that have not yet abolished it, taking into account defined criteria (more information on this can be found in the section on the abolition of the death penalty). Second, the killing of people by state security forces if this cannot be avoided in a self-defense situation or during a legitimate and proportionate police operation to protect other people. And thirdly, killing in the context of armed conflict by state organs, provided that international humanitarian law is respected.
Despite the absolute claim to validity of the right to life, people around the world are victims of arbitrary, extrajudicial or summary executions. Examples include the disproportionate use of police force through the use of live ammunition to suppress peaceful demonstrations, or failure to comply with the principles of fair trial when imposing the death penalty. The neglect of the duty to protect people in state custody against attacks by non-state third parties, e.g. due to inadequate protective measures in prisons, should also be mentioned here.
There are also some controversial issues concerning the right to life. For example, it is highly controversial whether, and if so, and from which month the right to life applies to embryos. The question of whether states are allowed or even required to keep people in their care (prisons, psychiatric hospitals, etc.) and who refuse to eat, by means of force-feeding, is also controversial in this context. Furthermore, the debate about the possibilities and legality of active euthanasia raises critical questions with regard to the right to life. The same applies to targeted killings by combat drones without court rulings, as is currently being carried out by the USA.
In order to protect the right to life, there are other instruments to protect people in addition to the internationally binding treaties. Thus, on May 24, 1989, the Economic and Social Committee of the United Nations introduced the “Principles for the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions” in resolution 1989/65, which was approved by the General Assembly on December 15, 1989 as Resolution 44/162 were adopted. Principle 1 states: "Governments should prohibit all extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions and ensure that such executions are criminal offenses on the basis of their legislation and are punishable by appropriate penalties (...) Circumstances are carried out (...) this prohibition is to be regarded as a higher priority than a decree issued by a government. " Principle 4 also protects "all individuals and groups at risk of extra-legal, arbitrary or summary executions, including those who have received death threats (...)." They must be effectively protected by "judicial or other means."
In order to document the worldwide implementation and implementation of the right to life, the mandate of the special rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions was created. He also tries to find answers to the disputed questions and to work out proposed solutions in line with human rights standards.
The right to life and the death penalty
The right to life does not include direct protection from the death penalty. Nevertheless, efforts are being made to abolish them at international level. The UN General Assembly alone has already passed four resolutions on the abolition of the death penalty since 2007, calling on the states in which it still exists to suspend the execution of death sentences (resolutions A / RES / 62/149, A / RES / 63/168, A / RES / 65/206, A / RES / 67/176).
The abolition is regulated by the second additional protocol to the ICCPR and is binding under international law. However, states that have not yet abolished the death penalty must adhere to fixed criteria in order to be able to impose and enforce the death penalty. These criteria are anchored in Art. 6 of the ICCPR. Accordingly, death sentences may only be imposed “for the most serious crimes on the basis of laws that were in force at the time the act was committed and that do not contradict the provisions of this pact and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. This penalty may only be enforced on the basis of a final judgment issued by a competent court. Furthermore, any person sentenced to death may ask for a pardon or commutation of the sentence. Furthermore, the death penalty must never be imposed on young people or children under the age of 18 and on pregnant women and people with a mental disability or serious mental illness. Art. 6 of the ICCPR thus refers to the abolition of the death penalty in a way that clearly indicates that the abolition is desirable. This was also made clear in the preamble to the Second Additional Protocol to the Convention.
Abolition of the death penalty
By ratifying the Optional Protocol to the ICCPR on the Abolition of the Death Penalty, the States parties undertake not to sentence anyone to death on their territory, to execute any action taken to abolish the death penalty. The second additional protocol has so far been ratified by 81 states - and thus by less than half of the UN member states. However, the death penalty is being imposed by far fewer states than would suggest.
The international human rights organization Amnesty International, which has been campaigning for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty for over 30 years, speaks of an irreversible trend towards abolition. The death penalty has already been completely abolished within the European Union and all member states have ratified the 2nd Additional Protocol. There is only one country on the European continent that still carries out the death penalty: Belarus. According to Amnesty International, 98 countries around the world have completely abolished the death penalty (as of April 2014). Seven states only provide them for extraordinary crimes such as war crimes or offenses under military law. 35 other states have abolished the death penalty in practice but not in law. Thus, a total of 140 countries no longer apply the death penalty.
Despite this success, it remains worrying that the majority of states that sentence or execute people are subject to the death penalty following processes that do not meet international legal standards for a fair trial. According to Amnesty International, death sentences were often based on "confessions" presumably obtained through torture or ill-treatment.
The human rights organization also criticizes the fact that in many countries people are sentenced to death for crimes that are not compatible with the criteria in Art. 6 of the ICCPR, since they are not among the “most serious crimes”. The death penalty was used in more than 20 countries in 2019, according to Amnesty International. Other criminal offenses punishable by the death penalty in the past year were adultery (Saudi Arabia) and blasphemy (Pakistan), economic crimes (China, North Korea, Vietnam), rape (Iran, Kuwait, Somalia, United Arab Emirates), forms of severe Robbery (Kenya, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan) and crimes against the state (Lebanon, North Korea, Palestinian territories).
However, the majority of all recorded executions were carried out in only a handful of states. Nearly 80 percent of all confirmed executions worldwide took place in Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. However, most executions are suspected in the People's Republic of China. It is believed that several thousand people were executed there in the past year. However, the exact numbers cannot be determined as the death penalty information is treated as a state secret in China.
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