Human rights are fundamental rights which every human being is entitled to just because they are human.

The death penalty is the ultimate, irreversible denial of human rights. It is the cold blooded killing of a human being in the name of ‘justice’. In 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; in Articles 3 and 5 it states that “no one shall be subjected to cruel or degrading punishment and everyone has the right to life and liberty”. The death penalty violates both of these fundamental rights.

The United Nations Rights Commission (UNHRC) has passed a resolution calling for all nations that continue executions, to restrict the number of offences for which the death penalty may be imposed and to suspend executions with a view towards abolishing the death penalty.

While most nations have abolished the death penalty in law or practice, the US is one of few industrialised countries in the world which continues to execute criminals. The US accounts for the highest number of executions; 65 people were executed in 2003, bringing a total of 885 prisoners put to death since the US Supreme Court lifted a moratorium on executions in 1976.

In the US, the death penalty is often promoted as a way to deter violence and make society safer. Yet, states with the death penalty have consistently had a much higher rate than those without the death penalty. Those who promote abolition of capital punishment often point to the homicide rate as evidence that the death penalty is ineffective. Those who support the death penalty often point out that the death penalty is badly needed in their states to prevent the murder rate from being even higher.

There are 3 international instruments in force which commit State parties to not have the death penalty. They are:

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  • The Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at abolition of the death penalty, which has now been ratified by 53 states. Nine other states have signed the Protocol, indicating their intention to become parties to it at a later date;
  • Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms concerning the abolition of the death penalty, which has now been ratified by 44 European states and signed by one other; and the
  • Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty, which has ...

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