Is there an emerging trend to see the death penalty as torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment?
Yesterday the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, Juan Mendéz, presented his interim report to the 3rd Committee of the UN General Assembly in New York.
Key among his conclusions was that “… the trend to abolish and the trend to restrict are both informed by a stated conviction that capital punishment is cruel, inhumane and degrading, either per se or as applied”; and there is evidence of an evolving standard within both international bodies and States to frame the debate about the legality of the death penalty within the context of human dignity and the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, which is now developing into a form of customary law.
He also concludes that the conditions under which the death penalty is actually applied renders the punishment tantamount to torture. In his report, he refers in particular to methods of execution and the ‘death row phenomenon, stating that “a prolonged stay on death row, along with the accompanying conditions, constitutes a violation of the prohibition of torture itself.”
The European Union, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein responded positively to the Special Rapporteur’s report. Singapore, the US and Egypt disagreed most strongly, saying that they did not believe there was international consensus that the death penalty violated the prohibition on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
Jackie Macalesher, Death Penalty Project Manager at PRI: "Although the death penalty does not constitute a violation per se of the absolute prohibition of torture under current international law, PRI opposes the death penalty because it is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, which represents an unacceptable denial of human dignity and integrity, and is a violation of the right to life. We welcome the report of the UN Special Rapporteur, which demonstrates that the “evolving practice of States shows a clear trend towards abolition of the death penalty.”
The Special Rapporteur’s report will be discussed in detail later today at a Side Event organised by the Special Procedures Branch of the OHCHR in cooperation with PRI and the World Organisation against Torture (OMCT). Click here to find out more.
Watch the Special Rapporteur here summarising the conclusions of his report at a press conference.