Category Archives: death penalty

Texas Executes Man in Contravention of Multiple International Legal Decisions

Texas Department of Criminal Justice
Credit: Larry D. Moore via Wikimedia Commons

The American state of Texas executed 64-year-old Mexican national Roberto Moreno Ramos on November 14, contravening the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and several human rights bodies, which had concluded he was entitled to a retrial or new sentencing hearing because of due process violations related to his trial, and should not be subjected to the death penalty because of his psychosocial disabilities. [OHCHR Press Release] Mr. Moreno Ramos, a Mexican citizen who had been arrested on suspicion of murder in 1992, was not afforded consular assistance or prompt, effective legal representation. See IACHR, Merits Report No. 1/05, Case 12.430, Roberto Moreno Ramos (United States), 28 January 2005. He is the sixth Mexican national to be executed in defiance of the ICJ’s 2004 judgment in Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mexico v. United States) ordering the “review and reconsider[ation]” of convictions and death sentences because of authorities’ failure to respect the rights of Mexican nationals and the Mexican government to consular information and notification. [Mexican Government Press Release]

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UN Human Rights Committee Clarifies, Expands Guidance on Right to Life

Credit: konferenzadhs via Pixabay

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has issued new legal guidance on the right to life under Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), expanding its interpretation of government obligations to protect reproductive rights and address climate change, among other topics. See Human Rights Committee, General comment No. 36 (2018) on article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on the right to life, UN Doc. CCPR/C/GC/36, 30 October 2018. General Comment No. 36 replaces the Human Rights Committee’s two previous general comments on the right to life, both published in the 1980s. See id. at para. 1. It incorporates many developments with respect to the right to life under Article 6, such as States’ obligations with regard to the availability of “safe and legal abortion,” the development and sale of weapons, and extra-territorial activities. See id. at paras. 8, 65. Other issues addressed in the general comment include police brutality, the death penalty, and nuclear weapons. See id. at paras. 5, 13, 62, 66. In conjunction with the publication of General Comment No. 36, the Human Rights Committee announced that it will begin working on the next general comment in 2019, which it provisionally decided will be on the right to peaceful assembly. [OHCHR Press Release]

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ACHPR Finds Botswana’s Secret Hanging of Prisoner Was Cruel Treatment

The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights at its November 2015 sessionCredit: ACHPR

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights at its November 2015 session
Credit: ACHPR

A recent case involving capital punishment in Botswana required the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) to consider the adequacy of appointed counsel and clemency procedures, hanging as a method of execution, the death row phenomenon, and whether notice is required prior to imposition of the death penalty. See ACommHPR, Interights & Ditshwanelo v. Botswana, Communication No. 319/06, Merits Decision, 57th Ordinary Session (2015). The case concerned a prisoner who was secretly hanged to death without advance warning to him or his family, who were then denied the opportunity to bury him. In its decision, published on June 28, 2016, the Commission declined to “suddenly” hold that the death penalty itself was an arbitrary deprivation of the right to life, but it signaled growing discomfort with capital punishment and held that execution by hanging constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of Article 5 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Further, it held that a prisoner must be informed in advance of the time and place of his execution and have a prior opportunity to meet with family or seek spiritual comfort.

The case also involved several procedural peculiarities. Botswana failed to participate in the proceedings before the ACHPR, leaving the Commission to rely on the complainant organizations’ submissions. Although the complainants requested provisional measures to prevent the victim’s execution, the ACHPR was unable to convey the request to the government before he was hanged, on the day after the Commission received the complaint and request. Finally, in the time since the complaint was submitted in April 2006, one of the complainant organizations, INTERIGHTS, has closed. Read more

UN Experts: Widespread Abuses and Killings of Detainees in Syria

Credit: UNHCR/V. Tan

Credit: UNHCR/V. Tan

A recent report from the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (COI) has revealed that all sides to the conflict in Syria have subjected those captured, kidnapped, or arrested to violence and rights abuses that amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. See UN Human Rights Council, Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Deaths in Detention in the Syrian Arab Republic, UN Doc. A/HRC/31/CRP.1, 3 February 2016 [hereinafter Deaths in Detention]. The report details the killings, arbitrary detentions, and torture committed within both State detention centers and anti-government groups’ detention centers between March 2011 and November 2015. Id. at para. 2.

According to the COI Chair, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro:

Nearly every surviving detainee has emerged from custody having suffered unimaginable abuses. For ordinary Syrians, the spectre of arrest or abduction, and the near-inevitable horrors that follow, have paralysed communities across the country.

[OHCHR Press Release]

The COI relied on hundreds of interviews with former detainees and with family members of detainees who were killed while in detention. Deaths in Detention, para. 2. The experts estimate that tens of thousands of people are detained in government detention centers. See id. at para. 4. While the State is responsible for the bulk of detainee abuses, anti-government groups including the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) and Jabhat Al-Nusra have also held civilians and soldiers for prolonged periods of time in makeshift detention centers, where they have tortured and executed detainees. Id. at para. 5.

The COI determined that both the State and anti-government groups have violated international human rights law and international humanitarian law by intentionally housing detainees in life-threatening conditions, engaging in torture, and committing extrajudicial killings. See id. at paras. 98, 103. By identifying the government agencies and individuals responsible for detainees, and by pointing to evidence of their knowledge of these abuses, the COI clearly signals where it believes accountability lies. See id. at paras. 40-64. The report recommends that all groups cease these practices, and calls on the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against both State and anti-government groups and representatives and to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court or other tribunal. See id. at paras. 106-07, 109. Read more

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