Event on death penalty
11:30am, Palais des Nations, Room XXII
On March 5th, 2017, celebrating the 70th birthday of the Declaration on Human Rights, panellists gathered to speak on death penalty on the side of the 37th Human Rights Council in Geneva. Their objective was twofold: first, assessing the progress achieved regarding this degrading practice in recent years; second, shedding light on its persistence in a number of countries around the world. The aim of this event was also to remind civil society actors of the urgency of its abolition, which should be achieved by 2030. On the panel spoke Ghassan Khamis, human rights defender and member of the Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, Visuvalingam Kirupaharan from the Tamil Center for Human Rights and Tanvir Ahmed from the Rencontre Africaine pour les Droits de l’Homme (RADDHO).
The discussion was moderated by Amock Alikuleti, who opened the debate by reminding the importance of legal norms and international law regarding human rights and death penalty, notably by citing article 2 of the Additional Protocol to the ICCPR, which states that “Each State Party shall take all necessary measures to abolish the death penalty within its jurisdiction”.
The first speaker, Tanvir Ahmed, reminded the audience that death penalty was intolerable in the modern era because it impeded on two of the most fundamental rights human beings are entitled to: one one hand, the right to live, and on the other the right to be free from torture. He then presented his research findings regarding this around the globe, showing that while attitudes towards death penalty had changed and that the current global trend was predominantly geared towards abolition, it was still difficult to measure progress and get reliable data because of a lack of judicial transparency in certain countries.
Visuvalingam Kirupaharan continued by drawing on the example of Sri Lanka, pointing out a link between forced disappearances and the the practice of death penalty. He highlighted the importance of education as a means to strengthen civil society pressure towards States, stating that it was the only way in which human rights and related issues could be challenged.
Last speaker on the panel, Ghassan Khamis joined Tanvir Ahmed regarding current trends regarding death penalty, stating that almost all human rights organizations were calling for outlawing it. He focused on the case of Bahrain, showing how death penalty in this country was used as a form of punishment against dissidents and political opponents: “thousands of pro-democracy citizens who peacefully demonstrated against the regime were sentenced to death “. He called upon all international community actors to cooperate in order to hold the Bahraini government accountable for its actions, emphasizing that during the last two years, Bahrain had sentenced 22 people and received 17 recommendations regarding this issue, with little to no change on the ground.
Following M. Khamis’ speech, a short film on death penalty in Bahrain was played to the audience. It notably showed how courts rendered judgments without taking into account international law and the principles of proportionately, using it to punish political opponents. A second short video shed light on the way death penatly affected families and caused them emotional distress.
Amock Alikuleti closed the panel by stating that governments could easily shape and influence public opinion in favor of death penalty when freedom of speech and of the media was not guaranteed. For this reason, the fight for human rights should be led on several fronts.