New York

10 October 2017

Secretary-General's remarks at Panel on “Transparency and the death penalty” [as delivered]

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I thank the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Member States who have co-sponsored this important event.

We are here to explore a very urgent and troubling human rights issue: the continued use of the death penalty, and the secrecy that surrounds it.

This is my first public statement as Secretary-General on the death penalty.

I want to make a plea to all States that continue this barbaric practice: 

Please stop the executions. 

The death penalty has no place in the 21st century. 

I am proud to say that my country, Portugal, abolished capital punishment 150 years ago – one of the first countries to do so. As a matter of fact, I was told in school that we were the first country, but I don’t want to create any incident with any other country that claims … but this is indeed something I am very proud of. 

The reasons were those that we call on today: 

The death penalty does little to serve victims or deter crime.

And even with meticulous respect for fair trials, there will always be a risk of miscarriage of justice.

This is an unacceptably high price. 

The world is now moving in the right direction.

Ever more countries are abolishing the death penalty and establishing moratoria on its use. Some 170 States have either abolished it or stopped using it. 

Just last month, two African States – The Gambia and Madagascar – took major steps towards irreversible abolition of the death penalty. I welcome these developments and congratulate both governments for their principled stance.  

In 2016, executions worldwide were down 37 per cent from 2015. 

Today just four countries are responsible for 87 per cent of all recorded executions.

But at the same time, we are concerned by the trend of reversing long-standing moratoria on the death penalty, in cases related to terrorism. 

And those countries that do continue executions also have international obligations. In many cases, they are failing to meet them. 

Transparency is a prerequisite to assess whether the death penalty is being carried out in compliance with international human rights standards. 

It also honours the right of all people to know whether their family members are alive or dead, and the location of their remains. 

But some governments conceal executions and enforce an elaborate system of secrecy to hide who is on death row, and why. 

Others classify information on the death penalty as a state secret, making its release an act of treason. 

Some limit the information that can be shared with defence lawyers, limiting their ability to appeal for clemency. 

Still others grant anonymity to companies that provide the drugs used in executions, to shield them from negative publicity. 

This lack of transparency shows a lack of respect for the human rights of those sentenced to death and to their families. 

It also damages the administration of justice more generally. 

Full and accurate data is vital to policy-makers, civil society and the general public. It is fundamental to the debate around the death penalty and its impact. 

Secrecy around executions undermines that debate, and obstructs efforts to safeguard the right to life. 

Today, on the World Day Against the Death Penalty, I reaffirm my opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances.

I invite all those states that have abolished the death penalty to support our call on the leaders of those that retain it, to establish an official moratorium, with a view to abolition as soon as possible. 

I wish you a successful and thought-provoking discussion, and I thank you very much.