Wednesday 19 September 2012

Special Rapporteurs Release Reports on Capital Punishment

Although the restriction and abolition of the death penalty has been one of the central issues in the human rights activities of the United Nations, there is no ‘special rapporteur’ or similar official specifically assigned to the issue. Historically, the matter has been taken up by the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions and, more recently, the Special Rapporteur on Torture. Among the myriad special procedures of the United Nations, these are among the oldest and most established. Thus, when the special rapporteurs speak, they do so with great prestige and authority.
For the first time, they have chosen to address the death penalty simultaneously, issuing reports for the autumn session of the General Assembly on the subject. The reports were issued today.
The Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions devotes detailed attention to the issue of ‘most serious crimes’, where debate rages as to whether capital punishment imposed for drug trafficking is compatible with international law. The Special Rapporteur on Torture, after covering the ways in which capital punishment interacts with his mandate, considers the evolving international legal norm by which capital punishment is, in and of itself, a form of torture.
It has always puzzled me that the world will condemn a situation where an individual is hooked up to electrodes and jolted unconscious by electricity by his or her tormentors, unless the electricity is strong enough to kill, in which case there are some who say this is not prohibited by international law. Or where we denounce the amputation of various parts of the body, such as hands and feet, as a form of punishment, only to deem it compatible with international law if it is the head that is amputated.
Well done to the Special Rapporteurs for this terrific initiative. Hopefully, it will help to build momentum for the General Assembly debate and the bi-annual resolution calling for a moratorium on capital punishment.

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