The right to life has been interpreted as both permitting exceptions and imposing obligations with regard to the death penalty. Discuss.
Through centuries, religions and philosophies have strongly condemned the act of killing human life. The extend of states violence during the Second World War and the repercussions for people, pushed the United Nations to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. Its aim was to promote fundamental and inalienable rights inherent in every human being.
Among them, the UDHR recognizes in its article 3 the right to life for everyone as a fundamental right and in its article 5 the Declaration says, No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) also refers to the right to life: Every human being has the right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of life.
Individual's life is protected from an arbitrary deprivation from states. However, this right is not inviolable. In reality, states may deprive individuals of life in some situations and human rights law does not raise any objection. Thus, the concept of right to life knows several exceptions and is central to issues like death penalty, euthanasia, abortion and war crimes.
The aim of this article is to consider the right to life's recognition around the world but also its admitted exceptions as the controversial death penalty. The first part of this paper will study the fundamental but not inviolable character of the right to life.
[...] The capital punishment cannot be applied on anyone below 18 years old or on pregnant women. Others treaties also prohibit the application of the death penalty to pregnant women as the Article 4 of the American Convention on Human Rights in 1969, or the additional Protocols I and II to the Geneva Conventions in 1977. This principle was recently applied in Laos where an English woman escaped the death sentence after becoming pregnant in jail. The Article 4 further states that states cannot derogate from this article even in public emergencies' situations. [...]
[...] Nevertheless, the capital punishment cannot be applied except for the most serious crimes and following procedures that assure a fair trial to individuals. II. LIMITATIONS OF THE RIGHT TO LIFE'S EXCEPTIONS. Limitations imposed by international conventions. The years following the UDHR, the United Nations realized that a global abolition of the capital sentence was not yet a realistic aim and mainly focused on limiting the scope of this sentence. International treaties do not condemn the use of the death penalty but create prohibitions and exhortations to reply to dilemmas created by the right to life. [...]
[...] African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, adopted 27 June UNTS 217 (entered into force 21 October 1986). European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, opened for signature 4 November UNTS 222 (entered into force 3 September 1953). Amnesty International, When State Kills The death penalty v human rights (Amnesty International Publications, 1989) 4. Pretty v United Kingdom (2002( VIII Eur Court HR 2001. Vo v France (2004( VIII Eur Court HR 67. Amnesty International, Death Penalty 2011: Facts And Figures (2011) . [...]
[...] In the 1980s international abolition movements won importance and conventions declaring the abolition of the death penalty were ratified, such as Protocol 6 to the ECDH. Today, new members of the European Union are obligated by the Council of Europe to undertake and ratify this protocol. This has led to abolition in countries of Eastern Europe such as Ukraine, which had previously one of the higher numbers of executions in the world. In June 1999, Russia has also signed an act commuting the death sentence for all prisoners on the death row to a life imprisonment. Each year since the end of the 1990s, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights passed resolutions asking countries applying the capital punishment to freeze executions. [...]
[...] Nevertheless, the death penalty cannot be separated from the issue of human rights. The application of this sentence as a punishment for crimes is not prohibit by human rights laws, as it appears in treaties such as Article 6 of the ICCPR. Article 2 of the ECHR also includes exceptions to the right to life. Paragraph 1 affirms that a lawfully executed death penalty is not a violation of individuals' human rights. The paragraph 2 states that deprivation of life is not contrary to the article if it is necessary to protect someone from unlawful violence; to prevent someone's flee from lawful custody or to prevent an insurrection. [...]
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