Geneva, Switzerland

25 February 2013

Secretary-General's message to the International Commission against the Death Penalty [delivered by Ms. Kyung-wha Kang, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights]

I thank the International Commission against the Death Penalty for organizing this discussion, and I commend the critical role of civil society in mobilizing global support on this important issue.  The right to life is the most fundamental of all human rights.  It lies at the heart of international human rights law.  The taking of life is too absolute, too irreversible, for one human being to inflict on another, even when backed by legal process.  That is why the United Nations system has long advocated the abolition of the death penalty.  International and hybrid tribunals supported by the UN do not provide for capital punishment, nor does the International Criminal Court.

Since the General Assembly first voted on a moratorium in 2007, the trend against capital punishment has gained momentum.  In December 2012, the Assembly’s support for a moratorium was 111 in favour to 41 against, with 34 abstentions.  The resolution calls on States to progressively restrict the use of capital punishment and not to impose it for offences committed by persons below 18 years of age and pregnant women.  States were also asked to reduce the number of offences subject to the death penalty. 

The sentiment towards abolition finds echoes in every region and across legal systems, traditions, customs and religious backgrounds.  Currently some 150 States have either abolished the death penalty or do not practice it.  I am therefore concerned that some countries with a longstanding de facto moratorium have recently resumed imposing the death penalty, and have even carried out executions.  Even well-functioning legal systems sentence and execute persons who have been ultimately proven innocent.  Wrongful convictions and miscarriages of justice have condemned innocent people to years of anguish on death row before being executed or exonerated. 

In those States that continue to impose the death penalty, thousands of individuals are executed each year – often in violation of international standards, such as the right to fair trial and due process.  The death penalty is still used for a wide range of crimes, such as drug crimes, which do not meet the threshold of “most serious crimes”, and information concerning the application of the death penalty is often cloaked in secrecy. 

Capital punishment is inconsistent with the mission of the United Nations to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights and the dignity and worth of the human person.  A global moratorium is a crucial stepping stone towards full worldwide abolition.  I urge you to use this meeting to consider how to further this end.

I wish you a productive discussion.