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Commission on Human Rights: Amnesty Oral Statement

Commission on Human Rights, 60th Session (15 March - 23 April 2004) Agenda item 17: Promotion and protection of human rights


Mr. Chair,

The campaign to abolish the death penalty worldwide has gained dramatic momentum since Amnesty International convened the International Conference on the Death Penalty in Stockholm in 1977. Then just 16 countries had abolished the death penalty for all crimes. Today the figure stands at 79 countries.

Yet some countries continue to use this cruel and irrevocable punishment. Last year Amnesty International recorded 1146 executions in 28 countries and 2756 people sentenced to death in 63 countries. The true figures are certainty higher.

A gross violation of the right to life, the application of the death penalty is often discriminatory and imposed disproportionately against the poor and against racial, ethnic and religious groups. In cases known to Amnesty International, prisoners have been executed despite suffering from mental illness; in other cases the prisoners' sexual orientation has been cited as a reason for imposing a death sentence. Many are executed after being subjected to torture and following grossly unfair trials. And, how many people are executed for crimes of which they are innocent?

Contrary to international law, people who were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime continue to be executed. Amnesty International has recorded three such executions since the beginning of 2003: one each in China, Iran and the United States of America.

Once again Amnesty International calls on the Commission to adopt a resolution calling for a universal moratorium on executions and the observance of agreed safeguards and restrictions in capital cases.

Mr. Chair,

Since 11 September 2001, many countries, in all regions, have introduced new laws and measures to combat terrorism. Special procedures of the Commission on Human Rights and the human rights treaty bodies have expressed profound concerns that many of these counter-terrorism policies, laws and practices have affected negatively the enjoyment of virtually all human rights.

Amnesty International shares this concern. Many countries are failing to ensure respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in their fight against terrorism. Some countries have even justified human rights violations on the pretext of combating terrorism.

Amnesty International recognizes the serious nature of today's threats to public safety and the duty of states under international human rights law to protect their populations from terrorism. However, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is not optional in the efforts to defeat the scourge of terrorism; rather states' efforts to combat terrorism must be firmly and unconditionally grounded in the rule of law. Indeed, many governments have emphasized to this Commission the importance of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms to long-term success in the fight against terrorism.

Amnesty International urges governments to ensure that measures taken to prevent and respond to terrorist acts are in strict conformity with their obligations under international human rights law. Amnesty International calls upon the Commission to give itself the means to monitor the effect of counter-terrorism measures on respect for human rights and to assist states and other relevant UN bodies to ensure the full protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in their fight against terrorism.

Thank you Mr. Chair

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