UN human rights chief calls for universal abolition of the death penalty

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay

15 December 2009 – The top United Nations human rights official today called for the universal abolition of the death penalty, citing a host of reasons ranging from the fundamental right to life to the possibility of judicial errors.

“I am opposed to the death penalty in all cases,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a message marking the on 20th anniversary of the Death Penalty Optional Protocol which was added to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1989 with the aim of abolishing the punishment.

“I hold this position for a number of reasons: these include the fundamental nature of the right to life; the unacceptable risk of executing innocent people by mistake; the absence of proof that the death penalty serves as a deterrent; and what is, to my mind, the inappropriately vengeful character of the sentence.”

Ms. Pillay noted that 140 States no longer carry out the penalty. The 72 States which have ratified the Protocol are duty-bound not to execute anybody, to take all necessary steps to definitively abolish the death penalty, and not to extradite individuals to a country where they would face the death penalty.

“Ratification of the optional protocol, as well as similar regional instruments in Europe and in the Americas, thus draws a firm line under the use of the death penalty,” she said, noting that the instrument is a key step for states moving towards abolition.

“Abolishing the death penalty is a difficult process for many societies, and ratification of the Optional Protocol can often only come about after a period of national debate. Until they reach that point, I urge those States still employing the death penalty to place a formal moratorium on its use, with the aim of ultimately ratifying the Optional Protocol and abolishing the punishment altogether everywhere.”


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