September 16, 2019

Use of the Death Penalty

Economic and Social Council: Human Rights Council

Topic: Use of the Death Penalty

The use of capital punishment has long been a contentious debate between nations as well as domestically within individual nations. Today, about one-third of nations across the globe still actively use the death penalty while the other two-thirds have either abolished the death penalty in law, or simply in practice. Observing trends over the past decade, the world is trending towards abolition with more and more states outlawing or placing restrictions on the use of the death penalty in their countries each year. Nations that do allow for capital punishment have ranging requirements/restrictions on how an individual can qualify for the death penalty, ranging from only acts such as murder to acts including adultery. While there is no international law that strictly prohibits the use of the death penalty as punishment for an offense, agencies, such as the Office of Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Chief, outwardly express their abolitionist perspective and have continued to call on states to abolish and/or place additional restrictions on the use of the death penalty. Additionally, many states that have the death penalty in practice do not adhere to the explicit international standards for how the punishment can be used, which is causing additional rifts and problems among nations.

There are a few international standards that have been set forth that the HRC should reference while coming to a decision: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (specifically the Second Optional Protocol), Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC), and the Guidance Note of the Secretary-General on the UN Approach to Rule of Law Assistance. These documents aid in the global trend toward abolition, and specifically the United Nation’s preference for abolition. That being said, up to this point, there has been no universal, international standard banning the death penalty because of arguments from those who still implement it, such as that the UN needs to respect cultural practices/religious beliefs, and that each individual state should have the right to determine their own legislation and methods of punishment. The HRC needs to take all this information into account in their discussions and decide to what degree the UN should abolish or limit the death penalty.

While the UN has made it clear that the system as a whole opposes the use of the death penalty in any circumstance, member nations of the UN may share opposing beliefs. For this reason, the HRC should not assume that just because the UN as an entity shares one belief that individual nations feel the same. Some questions for the HRC to focus on are as follows: To what extent should the HRC place limitations on the death penalty? How does the death penalty interact with the human rights values of the committee and how should the issue thus be addressed? Is complete abolition the answer, and if not, what restrictions (if any) should be placed on the use of capital punishment?

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