Death Penalty: UN experts call for continued efforts to move away from capital punishment for good

World Day Against Death Penalty - Thursday 10 October 2013

GENEVA (10 October 2013) – Two United Nations human rights experts called on the international community to intensify global efforts to definitively move States away from the death penalty, on the occasion of the World Day Against the Death Penalty. More than two thirds of UN Member States have already abolished the death penalty or maintain a legal or de facto moratorium on its use.

“While there is a clear trend towards the abolition of capital punishment worldwide, it is regrettable we still need to mark such a day,” said the Special Rapporteurs on extrajudicial executions, Christof Heyns, and on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez.

“There remain a number of States where people continue to be executed in contravention of the standards imposed by international law,” the experts said, while expressing deep concern about the recent resumption of executions in a number of States after long periods of observance of moratoriums. “More needs to be done to ensure stringent respect for international law in this field.”

Mr. Heyns reminded Governments of “the most serious crimes provision”, which requires that, in countries which have not abolished the death penalty, capital punishment may be imposed only for the crime of intentional killing. “It is contrary to international law to impose the death penalty for other types of crimes, such as drug-related or economic offences,” the Special Rapporteur said.

“I call on retentionist States to strictly apply this international standard, if the death penalty is to be used at all,” he stressed. “There is also a critical need to ensure that drug-control policies at national and international levels incorporate this fundamental human rights standard.”

Mr. Méndez warned that the use of the death penalty could entail cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of international law. “Cruel treatment starts well before the actual execution, when the condemned person is caught between the fear of imminent death and the faint hope that a successful appeal or clemency could spare his or her life,” he said.

“States need to re-examine their procedures under international law,” the Special Rapporteur stressed. “The ability of States to impose and carry out the death penalty is diminishing as these practices are increasingly viewed as constituting cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or even, in some instances, torture.”

The experts drew special attention to the need for retentionist States to ensure that death penalty cases are subject to the most stringent respect of fair trial and due process standards, while recalling UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s words: “The taking of a life is too absolute, too irreversible, for one human being to inflict it on another, even when backed by legal process.”

Both experts presented reports last year at the 67th session of the General Assembly on international law restrictions regarding the use of the death penalty.
Summary executions:

The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns (South Africa), is a director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa and Professor of Human Rights Law at the University of Pretoria, where he has also directed the Centre for Human Rights, and has engaged in wide-reaching initiatives on human rights in Africa. He has advised a number of international, regional and national entities on human rights issues. Mr. Heyns’ research interests include international human rights law and human rights law in Africa. Learn more, log on to:

Juan E. Méndez (Argentina) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in November 2010. Mr. Méndez is currently a Professor of Law at the American University – Washington College of Law and Co-Chair of the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association. He has previously served as the President of the International Center for Transitional Justice, and was the UN Secretary-General Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, as well as an advisor on crime prevention to the Prosecutor, International Criminal Court. Learn more, visit:

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Torture: Sonia Cronin (+41 22 917 91 60 /

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