Death penalty not generally incompatible with ICCPR

Published: 30 September 2017 Author: Stefan Talmon

On 22 September 2017, Germany together with 60 other States co-sponsored a draft resolution on “The question of the death penalty” at the United Nations Human Rights Council. The sixteenth preambular paragraph of the resolution read:

Strongly deploring the fact that the use of the death penalty leads to violations of the human rights of the persons facing the death penalty and of other affected persons.”

The Russian Federation proposed an amendment providing that

“the use of the death penalty may in some cases lead to violations of the human rights of the persons facing the death penalty […].”

Rejecting the Russian amendment, the German representative stated in the Human Rights Council on 29 September 2017:

“According to the Human Rights Committee, experience shows that it is extremely rare that the application of the death penalty complies with the strict provisions of the ICCPR [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights]. This paragraph reflects this fact. It does not say that the death penalty always leads to violations of human rights. The proposed weakening of the text is thus not acceptable for us and neither is it for the other co-sponsors of this resolution.”

The resolution was adopted on 29 September 2017 by 27 votes in favour (including Germany), 13 against (Bangladesh, Botswana, Burundi, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Iraq, Japan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE and the United States), with 7 abstentions.

Germany’s implicit admission that the death penalty does not always lead to violations of human rights supports the argument that the death penalty has not been absolutely outlawed as being contrary to customary international human rights law. The German statement also shows that the death penalty is not generally incompatible with the ICCPR.

Category: Human rights

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  • Stefan Talmon

    Stefan Talmon is Professor of Public Law, Public International Law and European Union Law, and Director at the Institute of Public International Law at the University of Bonn. He is also a Supernumerary Fellow of St. Anne’s College, Oxford, and practices as a Barrister from Twenty Essex, London. He is the editor of GPIL.

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