UN concerned over the growing use of the death penalty in Middle East and Asia

Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). UN Photo

5 April 2013 – The United Nations human rights office today called on Governments to establish an official moratorium on all executions with a long term goal of abolishing the death penalty worldwide.

“In many cases, the death penalty involves clear violations of international norms and standards,” the spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Rupert Colville, told journalists in Geneva. These violations include disrespect for fair trial guarantees and due process, and when executions of juvenile offenders take place in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Other violations include alleged crimes that do not meet the threshold of “most serious crimes,” execution after a very long period on death row, and a failure to ensure consular services are provided to foreign nationals.

Speaking on behalf of OHCHR, Mr. Colville said the office is “deeply concerned that a number of countries in the Middle East and Asia have recently started reapplying the death penalty after several years of moratorium, and despite the overwhelming global trend towards abolishing the death penalty.”

Earlier this week, three men were executed in Kuwait – the first time since May 2007 that Kuwait has carried out death sentences.

“Over 40 detainees remain on death row in Kuwait, and we urge the Government to commute all death sentences,” Mr. Colville said.

OHCHR noted that Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Yemen are among other countries in the Middle East region which regularly carry out the death penalty.

“We are particularly concerned at the continued high rate of implementation of the death penalty in Iraq,” Mr. Colville said, adding that at least 12 executions have been carried out this year, four in April alone. Hundreds of additional people in Iraq are on death row.

The number of people executed in Iraq last year totalled 123, including five women, which was a massive increase over previous years, OHCHR said, and “deeply worrying” in a country where there are persisting serious concerns about compliance with fair trial standards.

In Asia, the death penalty has also recently been carried out for the first time in several years in India, while Japan resumed executions in 2012.

Meanwhile in Indonesia, a man convicted on drug charges was reportedly executed by firing squad in the capital, Jakarta, on 14 March 2013 – the first execution in the country since November 2008. The execution occurred despite appeals by UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Christof Heyns, and other UN experts and civil society.

Indonesia’s Attorney General has said that 20 prisoners convicted and sentenced to death will be executed later this year. Reportedly around 130 people are believed to be on death row in Indonesia and more than half of them have been convicted of drug-related offences.

According to OHCHR, an unknown number of people are executed every year in China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Iran. In the United States, five executions have taken place so far this year.

The UN has a long history of opposing the death penalty. The UN General Assembly first voted on a moratorium in 2007, and again in December 2012 with the support of 111 countries, 41 against and 34 abstentions. The resolution called for a progressive restriction on the use of capital punishment and eliminating it entirely for felons below the age of 18 and pregnant women.

Although not legally binding, the UN moratorium on executions carries moral and political weight. Approximately150 countries have either abolished the death penalty or do not practice it.


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