October 10th – World Day against the Death Penalty: the right to human dignity

Oct 9 2018

International Commission against the Death Penalty*

On the occasion of the 16th World Day against the Death Penalty, the ICDP Commissioners join in expressing solidarity with all survivors and their families, with activists and world leaders against the death penalty and celebrate the progress that we have made towards ending this cruel, inhuman and degrading practice. We have come a long way as today 107 countries (Burkina Faso being the latest country, in June 2018) have abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

On this day, we look back and realize that the abolitionist movement has gained ground, slowly but surely as each year there are more countries that reject this punishment. Still, it is a day when we recognize the challenges ahead: though a majority of countries have ended the practice of carrying out executions, in law and/or in practice, it is a sad fact that a significant part of the world population continues to live in countries that impose this penalty. The death penalty is the ultimate penalty. It is final and irreversible and does not countenance the risk of execution of innocent persons. In the USA, more than 160 persons under sentence of death have been found to be innocent since 1973. In Japan, Iwao Hakamada was found to be innocent of a crime for which he was under sentence of death for over 45 years. In China, reportedly the country that carries out the largest number of executions, there have been reports that the Government apologized to families for carrying out the executions of innocent persons. Moreover, studies have shown that the capital punishment does not deter crime. Iran, a country which carries out hundreds of executions every year, reportedly admitted that the death penalty did not have a deterrent effect on drug-related crimes and has introduced legislation that could result in the courts not imposing the death sentences on those sentenced under these crimes.

This year, the World Day and European Day against the Death Penalty focuses on the inhuman living conditions of the prisoners sentenced to death. Those condemned to death cease to be human beings, and they lose their right to be “treated with the respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings” as mentioned in the “United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners”, which is also known as “the Nelson Mandela Rules” in recognition of his long years in prison.  Those under sentence of death face conditions that can only be termed as cruel, inhuman and degrading. In many countries including the USA, Japan, Pakistan, those under sentence of death spend most of the day, over 22 hours, in their prison cells. In several countries like Uganda, Ghana, Pakistan, the prisons suffer from severe overcrowding.  At ICDP, we believe that these horrific conditions further erode the very dignity of all those who are victims of this vicious system.

At the ICDP, the 21 members of the Commission and our Support Group of 19 States and three Observer States are working to increase the number of death penalty abolitionist countries. To this end, we engage with leaders, with Governments, with civil society organizations in countries that still retain the death penalty and help in advancing  the momentum towards ending the death penalty, initially in the form of a moratorium and then by abolition by changing the law. In our discussions, especially with the Government, we emphasize the important role of political leadership in making this important move towards better respect and protection of the right to life. The abolition of the death penalty, in many countries, has helped consolidate political transition away from authoritarian past towards democracy. Noting this, ICDP is honoured to organize in Madrid, where the ICDP Secretariat is based, a discussion on 10 October on the place of the abolition of the death penalty in times of democratic transition between two ICDP Commissioners, Founding ICDP President Federico Mayor and our newest Commissioner Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, former President of Mongolia who led the abolition of the death penalty in his country.

On this day, the ICDP will launch the Spanish translation of our publication How States abolish the death penalty: 29 case-studies. The publication briefly describes the abolitionist experiences of countries around the world and our aim is that this book becomes a reference document and provides a road-map for countries that want to start their own path towards eventual abolition of the death penalty.

Miss Navanethem (Navi) Pillay (South Africa) is the current President of the International Commission against the Death Penalty (ICDP), former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, former judge at the International Criminal Court, and former President and Judge at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, among her most recent posts.

Mr Federico Mayor Zaragosa (Spain), Founding President of the ICDP, former Director General of UNESCO and former Minister of Education and Science.

Mr Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj (Mongolia), ICDP Commissioner, former President of Mongolia, and former Prime Minister of Mongolia. He led his country to abolition by initially acceding to the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR in 2012. Capital punishment was abolished by law in Mongolia in July 2017.


*The International Commission against the Death Penalty (ICDP or Commission) was established in 2010 as a result of the Spanish Initiative to reinforce the global trend towards the abolition of the death penalty. ICDP was created in order to contribute with its work to promote, complement or support any action which aims at obtaining the universal abolition of the death penalty. ICDP is composed of 21 high-profile Commissioners with experience in international law and human rights, whose work is supported by a Support Group composed of 19 Member-States and 3 Observer States. ICDP Secretariat is based in Madrid.


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