Posts Tagged ‘abolition’

UN Panel debated death penalty with focus on human rights

February 26, 2019

Today, 26 February 2019, the UN Human Rights Council held its biennial high-level panel discussion on the question of the death penalty, with a focus on human rights violations in the context of the death penalty, in particular with respect to the rights to non-discrimination and equality.  A report was distributed by the APO Group on behalf of Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Here some highlights:

..In her opening statement, Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, reminded that death rows were disproportionately populated by the poor and economically vulnerable; members of ethnic minorities; people with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities; foreign nationals; indigenous persons; and other marginalized members of society.  Condemning people to death for conduct that should not be criminalized in the first place was never compatible with a State’s human rights obligations.  The High Commissioner encouraged all States to take a stand on the right side of history and join the international trend towards abolition.  

The panellists were Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nepal; Melinda Janki, Director of the Justice Institute Guyana; and Fatimata M’Baye, Lawyer and Co-Founder of the Mauritanian Human Rights Association.  Yuval Shany, Chair of the Human Rights Committee, acted as the discussion moderator.

Mr. Shany drew attention to the adoption by the Human Rights Committee of the General Comment No. 36 on the right to life, according to which the death penalty could not be “reconciled with full respect for the right to life.”  The General Comment made particular reference to the problem of inequality in the application of the death penalty.  

….

FATIMATA M’BAYE, Lawyer and Co-Founder of the Mauritanian Human Rights Association, said that there had been a moratorium on the death penalty in Mauritania since 1987, though there were still death penalty rulings handed down.  She drew attention to the case of Mohamed Ould Mkheitir, a blogger who had posted an article about social discrimination in Mauritania, which meant he was accused of blasphemy.  When he was arrested, he was asked to repent and quickly withdraw the article, but unfortunately, he was still prosecuted quickly by the police.  This case had given rise to a great deal of violence and hatred within the local community.  Mohamed was sentenced to death in 2015 by the penal court of the country, which was confirmed in 2016.  There was an appeal launched, and a two-year sentence was later handed down.  Ms. M’Baye said that the blogger was currently being held in a secret location.  The source of law in Mauritania was Islamic law, and women were often sentenced to the death penalty, many times accused of infanticide.  The death penalty was an egregious practice that was humiliating and degrading.  The United Nations could play a role in ending the death penalty by asking those States that still practiced it to abandon this punishment in the name of the right to life. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/04/08/us-state-department-international-women-of-courage-awards-2016-yulan/]

In the ensuing discussion, speakers expressed belief that the abolition of the death penalty and torture had elevated human dignity and advanced human rights.  The death penalty was a human right violation.  They hailed the adoption in the United Nations General Assembly of a resolution on a moratorium on the death penalty in December 2018, but noted that around the world capital punishment continued to be imposed in violation of major international standards.  Speakers expressed deep concern that the death penalty was imposed in a disproportionate and discriminatory manner to juvenile offenders, women victims of domestic violence, minorities, foreign nationals, persons with disabilities, and poor and economically vulnerable populations.  Some, however, noted that every State had the right to choose its legal and criminal justice systems, without external interference, and that the rights of defendants always had to be weighed against the rights of victims and their families, and the broader rights of the community and society.    

Speaking were Iceland on behalf of a group of countries, Montenegro, Luxembourg, Italy, Mexico, Singapore on behalf of a group of countries, Chile on behalf of a group of countries, Brazil on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, New Zealand, Pakistan, Australia, Malaysia, Fiji, Slovenia, Ecuador, France, Iraq, Iran, Bangladesh, Argentina, India, Saudi Arabia, and Greece. 

Also taking the floor were the following civil society organizations: Friends World Committee for Consultation, Centre for Global Nonkilling, International Lesbian and Gay Association, Together against the death penalty, and International Federation of ACAT (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture), and the National Human Rights Institution: Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines. ….. 

Iran respected those who had abolished the death penalty, but it could not accept any universal prescription to that effect.  Iran remained committed to observing the rule of law and due process in the criminal justice system, while continuing to study the best ways to serve justice.  Bangladesh stressed that its application of the death penalty was restricted to very selective cases of the most heinous crimes.  No child or pregnant woman could be sentenced to death.  Argentina believed that the abolition of the death penalty and torture had elevated human dignity and advanced human rights.  The death penalty was a human rights violation.

India reiterated its stance that it was a simplistic approach to characterize the death penalty as a human rights issue in the context of the right to life of the convicted prisoner.  This approach was deeply flawed and controversial.  There should be no external interference in the criminal justice system of any sovereign State. ….  Saudi Arabia stated that it used the death penalty for only for most serious crimes and in the most serious circumstances, after a fair trial had been guaranteed.  All procedures were in accordance with international standards as Islamic Sharia lay down the provisions of the punishments to guarantee the supreme rights of the people.  All States had the sovereign right to bring justice through their own procedures.  Greece opposed the death penalty in all cases and circumstances and highlighted the death penalty’s negation of the reformative function that any punishment should bare.  It was particularly concerned that the death penalty disproportionately affected women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, and human rights defenders and therefore urged States to do their utmost to ensure a fair trial. ..

YUVAL SHANY, Chair of the Human Rights Committee, noted that many delegates had commended the trend towards the abolition of the death penalty.  However, a concern around what some had termed as a backlash against abolition in this field was also noted.  A number of representatives had also noted the irreversibility of the death penalty.  It was also noted that there was an increasing consensus that the death penalty if applied should only be applied for the most serious crimes.  There was also a strong concern from all corners of the room about the problem of discrimination in regard to poverty, sexual orientation, women, psychosocial disability and other issues.  The panel was asked: how could all address biases, racial biases, gender biases and other biases in the application of the death penalty, and identify good practices so the death penalty was applied in a non-discriminatory fashion? 

…..

Myanmar/Burma: progress but still along way to go

January 11, 2014

(Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Tomás Ojea Quintana. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine)

On 11 December 2013  Tomás Ojea Quintana, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, welcomed the release of 44 prisoners of conscience in Myanmar, hailing it as an important step towards fulfilling President Thein Sein’s pledge of freedom for all political prisoners by the end of this year. “When I look back to the start of my mandate in 2008, I was referring to figures of over 1,900 persons detained on political grounds. It is important to acknowledge the significance of the progress that has been made: today we are referring to figures of less than 50”. The expert said the practice of arresting those who express views that are different to those of the Government became embedded during 50 years of military rule. “Moving to a culture of democracy, where people are free to express their views, will take time,” he stated. “The releases today are a step towards this, but need to be accompanied by legislative reforms.”  However on 17 December the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of FIDH and OMCT, welcoming the latest release of prisoners of opinion in Burma/Myanmar, deplored the re-arrests of human rights defenders Ko Htin Kyaw and Aye Thein within hours of their “release”.  Front Line reported that on 3 December 2013, Tin Htut Pai was arrested for his involvement in commemorating the one-year anniversary of the protests against the Letpadaung mining project. Tin Htut Pai is currently detained but has not been permitted to see his lawyer. Tin Htut Pai is the founder of Generation Youth, an organisation that advocates for youth empowerment and campaigns against land confiscation.

On 10 January 2014 this was followed by praise from the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, for President Thein Sein’s announcement on 2 January that he would commute death sentences to life imprisonment and reduce some sentences on humanitarian grounds and to mark the 66th anniversary of independence of the country. The move is “very significant” for Myanmar, which has not carried out the death penalty since 1989, the spokesperson noted, as the country assumed the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

https://www.un.org/apps/news//story.asp?NewsID=46718&Cr=myanmar&Cr1=#.UtEULijKzZQ

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=46904&Cr=myanmar&Cr1=#.UtEThCjKzZQ

http://www.fidh.org/en/asia/burma/14406-burma-it-is-time-to-free-all-human-rights-defenders-and-stop-ongoing

http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/24414#sthash.HRV7IJe0.dpuf

Imam Baba Leigh writes impressively how opposing the death penalty in Gambia forced him into exile

November 5, 2013

Imam Baba Leigh

A huge social media campaign was mounted on behalf of Imam Baba Leigh during his incarceration [Twitter].

Just a few days ago, on 22 October, I was given an award from the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network. I was not expecting it, which makes me all the more happy and appreciative. Sadly, I was not allowed to go and receive it in my home country, The Gambia, because there was a chance I could be arrested there. My responsibility, as a Muslim and as a scholar, is to ensure people enjoy their human rights, regardless of colour, race, gender, religion, tradition, economic status or anything else. We are all human beings at the end of the day. As a human rights activist receiving such a prestigious award is wonderful. You feel your work is recognised and encouraged.

Problems for me started when, in August 2012, our head of state President Jammeh promised to execute several inmates. So I went to talk to The Standard newspaper and urged the President to forgive them. “Forgiveness is part of faith and they are no longer a threat to the security of the nation,” I said quoting the holy Qur’an. A week after the executions, the Islamic Council of The Gambia made a declaration that the executions were Islamic. I gave a Friday sermon at the mosque and replied the executions had nothing to do with Islam. They were un-Islamic. Even though the holy Qur’an mentions executions, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) valued forgiveness. My comments caused a lot of commotion. The newspaper was shut down. I started receiving intimidating calls…

On 3 December, I was arriving home after a funeral when I found two men from the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) there waiting for me. “You are wanted [at the NIA offices] to answer some questions,” they said…I was then put in a jail until around 1.00am. Then they started beating, hitting and kicking me. For nine days I suffered a lot. You never know how important and valuable freedom is until it is taken from you. I used to struggle trying to get people out of jail. Trying to bring peace. Trying to bring peaceful coexistence. I didn’t know this is the way things are until the day I was detained. You can understand ending up in prison if you commit a crime, if you are taken to a judge and sentenced. At least then you would know why you are being held, and for how long. I was abducted and then held incommunicado – I couldn’t see anybody, I couldn’t hear anybody.

I had not committed any crime and my conscience was clean. After nine days, they told me I was going home and they put me in another car. The man taking me said “we are taking you home”, but they drove to a hidden place called Bambadinka, which means “hole of dragons”. There I was put in a very small, very filthy, dirty room. I spent five months there. I was kept in a dark, small room where I couldn’t see or hear anything, only rats and spiders. After five months and 17 days, I was released. Some people say that I am now free. But this is not freedom. Freedom is to be able to go home when you want to. I’m just in a bigger jail.

My ambition is to speak for those who have no pulpit, no opportunity for themselves. And to pass the peaceful message of Islam and other religions. I’m urging people in position of authority, presidents and kings alike, to embrace the freedom of their people and to protect it. You can be a president today, you can be a leader today, you can be an authority today, but things change very quickly. You can find yourself fall from the presidency into prison. Then you will need the work of Amnesty International.”

[Imam Baba Leigh is currently in the USA where he has been receiving medical treatment] 

‘This is Not Freedom … I’m Just in a Bigger Jail’: Imam Baba Leigh Takes us into his Gambian Nightmare – IBTimes UK.

Human rights defenders in Mauritania arrested

March 19, 2013


On 9 March 2013, police severely beat a number of human rights defenders and members of the Initiative pour la Résurgence du Mouvement Abolitionniste en Mauritanie – IRA (Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement) in Southern Mauritania. Nine of the human rights defenders were arbitrarily arrested and remain in detention in Kaédi police station. (IRA is an organisation which works to eradicate slavery in Mauritania. It has members and supporters in various regions of the country.) Read the rest of this entry »