Alert: Torture survivors speak out in our new report on human rights abuses in Ethiopia
Gambia
25.11.10
Urgent Interventions

Joint Statement on the death penalty at the 48th session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

Statement on behalf ofFoundation for International Human Rights (FHRI), International Federation ofAction by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (FIACAT), International HarmReduction Association (IHRA) , World organization against Torture (OMCT) andPenal Reform International (PRI) African Commission onHuman and Peoples’ Rights 48th Ordinary Session10 to 24 November2010: Banjul, The Gambia Dear Madame Chair,
The Foundation for International HumanRights, the International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolitionof Torture, International Harm Reduction Association, the World organizationagainst Torture (OMCT) and Penal Reform Internationalwelcome the African Commission’s commitment to the abolition ofthe death penalty, and recalls the importance of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights as alandmark document contributing to the process of building a human rightsculture in the region. We recall the 1999 resolution adopted atthe 26th Ordinary Session in Kigali, Rwanda, which called upon StateParties to consider establishing a moratorium on executions and to reflect onthe possibility of abolishing the death penalty. We also recall the 2008resolution adopted at the 44th Ordinary Session in Abuja, Nigeria,which called on State Parties to observe a moratorium and to include in theirperiodic reports to the Commission information on the steps they are taking tomove towards abolition. These resolutions are important steps towards makingthe African Union a death penalty-free zone, and we commend the leadership rolethat the Commission has played in this regard. We recall the establishment of theCommission’s Working Group on the Death Penalty and commend its recent work,including its intervention in Nigeria to halt the execution of hundreds ofdeath row inmates as a measure to deal with overcrowding in prisons; and itsinitiative in convening two regional conferences on the question of the deathpenalty in Africa, in Kigali in September 2009 and in Cotonou, Benin, in April2010. We are encouraged by the initiative to examine the prospect of adoptingan additional protocol on the death penalty to the African Charter on Human andPeoples’ Rights, and urge that those efforts be taken forward in 2011. Madame Chair,
We note that at least 15 African Union countries are abolitionist in law[1], and 21in practice[2].Burundi and Togo are the most recentstates to abolish the death penalty, and Benin, Burkino Faso and Mali haveexpressed political will to work towards abolition. This is a strong indication that abolition of the death penalty isgaining ground within the African Union.[3] However, onlyeight countries of the African Union have ratified the Second Optional Protocolto the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights concerningabolition of the death penalty[4], and only a further twohave signed it[5].We urge members of the African Union to confirm their abolitionist status bysigning and ratifying the Second Optional Protocol at their earliestopportunity. Madame Chair,
We recall the 1999 resolution adopted at the 26th OrdinarySession in Kigali, and article 6(2) of the UN International Covenant on Civiland Political Rights, which calls upon State Parties to limit the imposition ofthe death penalty only for the ‘most serious crimes’. Interpretationof ‘most serious crimes’ has lead to restrictions on the number and types of offencesfor which death sentences can be imposed under international law. Inparticular, it has been interpreted as not going beyond intentional crimes withlethal or other extremely grave consequences[6], and maynot include: economic or financial crimes[7]; drug-related offences[8]; robbery[9]; abduction not resultingin death[10];non-violent or victimless offences[11]; sexual relations betweenconsenting adults[12]; matters of sexualorientation or homosexual acts[13]; or activities of areligious[14]or political nature[15]. We note with regret recent reports indicating that the Gambian NationalAssembly has extended the scope of the death penalty to include humantrafficking, robbery, rape and drug-related offences. The extension of theapplication of the death penalty in Gambia goes beyond the ‘most seriouscrimes’ restriction, and is in violation of international human rights law andstandards. We recommend that the Gambian President refrain from signing thisamendment in order to keep this law from coming into force so as to respectinternational human rights standards and principles, including the AfricanCommission’s own resolutions. We note that the Ugandan Parliament is in the process of adopting a Bill that envisages capital punishment,among other penalties, for certain homosexual acts. The UN Human RightsCommittee has interpreted ‘most serious crimes’ as not includingmatters of sexual orientation or homosexual acts. We recommend that the UgandanParliament refrain from adopting this legislation, and take steps towardsabolition of the death penalty. We also note that Liberia, where no onehas been executed since 2000, reinstated the death penalty in 2008 for armedrobbery, terrorism or hijacking offences and sentthree persons to death row in 2009, despite Liberia’s accession to the SecondOptional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rightsin September 2005. The reintroduction of the death penalty is a retrogradestep, and we would urge the government of Liberia to at their earliestopportunity irrevocably to abolish the death penalty in law. Madame Chair,
We note that the treatment of prisoners on deathrow isoften not in compliance with international human rights standards and norms,and in some cases can even amount to torture and other cruel, inhuman ordegrading treatment. In states that have abolished the deathpenalty, we note that the alternative sanction is often life or long-termimprisonment. The processes by which death sentences are replaced withalternative sanctions raise one set of concerns, as cases are rarelyindividually considered. The implementation of the sentences raises others,both practical concerns and of a human rights nature, particularly whenimplementation exacerbates the existing and often serious inadequacies of theprison sector in a number of African states. Often,in relation to such prisoners, the prison’s primary function of rehabilitationis neither acknowledged nor carried out. Sentences which exclude thepossibility of consideration for parole raise particular concern. Such sentences, while preserving physical life, remove the possibility of release andtherefore deny the offender a meaningful opportunity for rehabilitation. Thisis incompatible with the ‘essential aim of the penitentiary system’, whichArticle 10(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rightsstates to be ‘reformation and social rehabilitation’ and frequently results intreatment which is not compatible with human dignity. Foundation for International Human Rights,the International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition ofTorture, International Harm Reduction Association, OMCT and Penal ReformInternationalcall on all AfricanUnion States, while continuing to move towards full abolition of the deathpenalty, to review their policies and practices in relation to those convictedof the worst crimes and to bring them into compliance with internationalstandards and norms. Thank you, Madame Chair
[1] Angola, Burundi, Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti,Guinea Bissau, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe,Senegal, Seychelles, South Africa and Togo.[2] Benin, Burkino Faso, Cameroon, Central AfricanRepublic, Comoros, Congo (Brazzaville), Eritrea, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya,Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Sierra Leone, Swaziland,Tanzania, Zambia.[3] African Union member states that still retain the death penalty include:Botswana; Chad; Comoros; Democratic Republic of Congo; The Gambia, Egypt; Equatorial Guinea; Ethiopia; Guinea-Bissau; Lesotho; Liberia; Libya; Nigeria;Sierra Leone; Somalia; Sudan; Uganda and Zimbabwe.[4] Cape Verde, Djibouti, Liberia, Mozambique, Namibia,Rwanda, Seychelles and South Africa. [5] Guinea-Bissau and Sao Tome and Principe.[6] Safeguard 1 of the UN Safeguards GuaranteeingProtection of the Rights of Those Facing the Death Penalty (approved by Economic and SocialCouncil resolution 1984/50 of 25 May 1984).[7] Concluding observations of theHuman Rights Committee: Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, UN document CCPR/C/79/Add.101,6 November 1998, para. 8; Concluding observations of the Human RightsCommittee: Sudan, UN document CCPR/C/79/Add.85, 19 November 1997, para. 8; UNCommission on Human Rights resolution 2005/59 (adopted on 20 April 2005).[8] Extrajudicial, summary orarbitrary executions: Report by the Special Rapporteur..., UN documentE/CN.4/1997/60, 24 December 1996, para.91; see also UN documents A/HRC/4/20;A/HRC/11/2/Add.5.[9] Concluding observations of theHuman Rights Committee: Kenya, UN document CCPR/CO/83/KEN, 29 April 2005, para.13.[10] Concluding observations of theHuman Rights Committee: Guatemala, UN document CCPR/CO/72/GTM, 27 August 2001,para. 17.[11] Extrajudicial, summary orarbitrary executions: Report of the Special Rapporteur..., UN documentE/CN.4/1999/39, 6 January 1999, para.63.[12] Concluding observations of theHuman Rights Committee: Sudan, UN document CCPR/C/79/Add.85, 19 November 1997,para. 8; UN Commission on Human Rights resolution 2005/59 (adopted on 20 April2005).[13] Concluding observations of theHuman Rights Committee: Sudan, UN document CCPR/C/79/Add.85, 19 November 1997,para. 8; Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions: Report of the SpecialRapporteur..., UN document E/CN.4/1999/39, 6 January 1999, para.63.[14] Concluding observations of theHuman Rights Committee: Sudan, UN document CCPR/C/79/Add.85, 19 November 1997,para. 8; UN Commission on Human Rights resolution 2005/59 (adopted on 20 April2005).[15] Concluding observations of theHuman Rights Committee: Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, UN document CCPR/C/79/Add.101,6 November 1998, para. 8. Concluding observations of the Human RightsCommittee: Kuwait, UN document CCPR/CO/69/KWT, 27 July 2000, para. 13;Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee: Viet Nam, UN documentCCPR/CO/75/VNM, 26 July 2002, para. 7; Concluding observations of the HumanRights Committee: Democratic People's Republic of Korea, UN documentCCPR/CO/72/PRK, 27 August 2001, para. 13.
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