March 1, 2007
Death penalty gets a 2nd global look
By Betsy Pisik, Washington Times
NEW YORK -- The senior U.N. human rights official yesterday said she senses
a global interest in revising the death penalty, triggered in part by the
public execution of former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein.
Louise Arbour, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said she does
not expect to see a "spontaneous uprising or outcry" against capital
punishment, but she does perceive a willingness among governments to
consider restricting the death penalty -- or at least opening up the opaque
"I sense that this year there is an opportunity to move towards abolition in
some countries, moratorium in others and transparency in some which still
surround the application of the death penalty with secrecy," Mrs. Arbour
told reporters here yesterday.
"The call for abolition is rarely the result of a spontaneous enlightenment.
It is usually triggered by an event in countries that have the courage to
face their own shortcomings,
demonstrated wrongful conviction."
The executions in Iraq of Saddam and two of his associates "may have created
an environment in which people are asking a lot of serious questions" about
the need for a review of capital punishment, she said.
Saddam was hanged in December. Shouting and jeering by Shi'ites at the
execution, which was caught on a cell-phone camera, drew condemnation from
President Bush and other world leaders. When Saddam's half brother Barazan
Ibrahim was hanged in January, his head was severed.
Mrs. Arbour was pragmatic on whether her agency could make inroads in the
United States, where capital punishment is administered by states and
appears to have popular support.
She indicated that she would not be bringing up the matter with the U.S.
government or courts the same way her office does in other, more receptive
"If the courts are willing to listen to us, we are not going to shy away,"
Mrs. Arbour said. "It depends on our own capacity to make a contribution in
a case where the advocacy of international standards are not likely to be
advanced by others."
Mrs. Arbour, a former Canadian justice and a prosecutor for the
international criminal tribunals for Rwanda and Yugoslavia, is a
tough-minded and plain-spoken advocate for what she sees as basic human
The official U.N. position is that it respects the domestic laws of member
states. However, Mrs. Arbour and others in the human rights sphere say that
all people have the right to life, a de facto repudiation of capital
The Web site of the U.N. special rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary and
arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, notes, in part: "Given that the loss of
life is irreparable, the Special Rapporteur ... emphasizes that the
abolition of capital punishment is most desirable in order fully to respect
the right to life. He also wishes to mention that, while there is a
fundamental right to life, there is no such right to capital punishment."
According to Amnesty International, 88 nations and territories have
explicitly outlawed the death penalty, while 69 permit capital punishment
for crimes of varying degrees of severity from rape to treason.
The European Union has shelved capital punishment, while the United States,
Iran, Iraq, China and South Korea are among those that impose it.
Source : Washington Times