Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Death penalty has no place

Death penalty has no place

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Protesters carry placards in front of a courthouse in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where a jury was deliberating whether to give the death penalty to Edison Burgos for killing his girlfriend Madelyn Semidey Morales, a US Drug Enforcement Administration informant. Photograph: Reuters

Death penalty has no place

There is no right more sacred than the right to life,” United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told a high-level panel on the death penalty in New York last July.

Pillay noted that an increasingly large number of UN member states had acknowledged that the death penalty undermined human dignity, and that its abolition – or at least a moratorium on its use – contributed to the enhancement and progressive development of human rights.

The death penalty, or capital punishment, constitutes the ultimate form of punishment: by taking the life of a person convicted of a crime.

Where the death penalty persists, conditions for those awaiting execution are often horrifying, leading to aggravated suffering.

Today, the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty and abolitionists around the world celebrate the 10th anniversary of World Day against the Death Penalty, a global initiative supported by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

In Cambodia, both the OHCHR and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) welcome the Royal Government of Cambodia’s repeated stand against the use of capital punishment.

Cambodia has been at the forefront of abolishing the death penalty in Asia, in particular among ASEAN nations.

Cambodia is one of only two ASEAN countries (the other being the Philippines) to have abolished capital punishment.

It also has the longest continuous period of abolition, having banned the death penalty for all crimes since 1989.

This situation became formally entrenched in 1993 under Article 32 of the Cambodian Constitution, which explicitly forbids capital punishment.

In recent years, the Royal Government of Cambodia has repeatedly reaffirmed its commitment to the abolition of the death penalty by consistently voting, in 2007, 2008 and 2010, in favour of United Nations General Assembly resolutions on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.

These resolutions also called for a restriction of the number of offences punishable by death; the publication of information on the use of the death penalty; respect for the international standards that provide safeguards guaranteeing the protection of those facing the death penalty; and a commitment not to re-introduce the death penalty once it is abolished.

In December this year, the UN General Assembly will vote on a fourth resolution on a moratorium on the death penalty.
Cambodia’s abolition of the death penalty is all the more laudable in light of the heinous crimes that were committed in the country during the Khmer Rouge period.

The sentencing by a Cambodian court of Kaing Guek Eav to life imprisonment for such serious crimes has reinforced the message that Cambodia has renounced the use of the death penalty in practice as well as in theory.

The great majority of countries in the world that have abolished the death penalty have also ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Ratification of this protocol, which aims to end capital punishment, sends a clear signal to the international community on this important human-rights issue.

It comes as no surprise, therefore, that several United Nations member states recommended that Cambodia ratify the Second Optional Protocol during Cambodia’s Universal Periodic Review in 2009 – a recommendation accepted by Cambodia, in another demonstration of the Kingdom’s stance on this issue.

“The right to life is the most fundamental of all human rights,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon remarked at the New York meeting, during which he encouraged all member states to follow a growing world-wide trend towards the abolition of the death penalty.

“It lies at the heart of international human rights law,” Ban Ki-moon continued.

“The taking of life is too absolute, too irreversible, for one human being to inflict it on another, even when backed by legal process.”

The Royal Government of Cambodia has already shown great leadership by becoming the first ASEAN member to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT).

In this important year, during which Cambodia holds the ASEAN chair, the Royal Government of Cambodia could demonstrate similar leadership on the issue of the death penalty by becoming the second ASEAN member, after the Philippines, to become a State party to the ICCPR Second Optional Protocol.

James Heenan is the representative of OHCHR in Cambodia and Olivier Lermet the country manager of UNODC.

MOST VIEWED

  • Hun Sen rejects ‘rift’ rumours spread by ‘stupid gangsters’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday denied a “rift” among top leaders of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), and rejected claims that Senate president Say Chhum and Interior Minister Sar Kheng were set to be removed from their positions as rumours spread by “gangsters”.

  • Huge 3.5-tonne ivory haul seized in capital

    Working with US officials, Phnom Penh Autonomous Port has uncovered almost 3.5 tonnes of elephant ivory hidden in a container, the US Embassy in Cambodia said on Facebook on Saturday. A tip-off provided to the General Department of Customs and Excise by a US Fish and

  • EU ambassador to Cambodia: Rights a ‘work in progress’

    The EU ambassador to Cambodia has called human rights “a work in progress” and said the 28-nation bloc has “carefully” noted last week’s statement by the government on taking further steps to strengthen democracy and the political sphere in the Kingdom. The EU marked

  • Assembly passes amendment to Political Party Law Article 45

    The National Assembly on Thursday unanimously approved a proposed amendment to Article 45 of the Law on Political Parties in a move that could pave the way for former senior opposition leaders banned for five years to return to the political stage. As expected, the 115 ruling