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Death penalty: UN experts warn of associated torture and cruel punishment

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GENEVA – On the 20th World Day Against the Death Penalty (10 October), the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Alice Edwards, and the special rapporteur on extra-judicial summary or arbitrary executions, Morris Tidball-Binz, issued the following statement, reflecting on the relationship between the death penalty and the absolute prohibition against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment:

Although the death penalty is permitted in very limited circumstances under international law, the reality remains that in practice it is almost impossible for states to impose capital punishment while meeting their obligations to respect the human rights of those convicted. Abolition of the death penalty is the only viable path.

The death row phenomenon has long been characterised as a form of inhuman treatment, as has the near total isolation of those convicted of capital crimes and often held in unlawful solitary confinement.

A number of states continue to impose the death penalty for non-violent crimes such as blasphemy, adultery and drug-related offences, which fail the “most serious crime” standard for the application of capital punishment under international law. A growing trend of imposing the death penalty on those exercising their right to peaceful political protest is deeply worrying.

Furthermore, increasingly methods of execution have been found to be incompatible with the obligations to refrain from torture and ill-treatment, for inflicting severe pain and suffering.

Despite more than 170 states having repealed the death penalty or adopted moratoriums, there was a reported 20% increase in the number of executions last year.

READ MORE:  Disclose proposed alternative sentences when mandatory death penalty is abolished

States that retain the death penalty are urged to scrupulously apply exceptions for persons with intellectual disabilities, pregnant women and children, as required by various instruments including Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

All states are invited to consider ratifying the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR aimed at the abolition of the death penalty. The protocol currently has 40 signatories and 90 states parties.

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