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Capital Punishment: Morality, Politics, and Policy - International Law Of Human Rights

covenant penalty protocol death

Probably the most influential factor in shaping the future of the death penalty is international human rights law. In 1966 the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was adopted by the General Assembly of the UN, and it came into force in 1976. The Covenant provided that "no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhumane or degrading punishment or torture." It was clear that this language was on a collision course with the death penalty. The United States ratified the Covenant but took explicit exception to two other provisions: the prohibition against executing juveniles (persons under eighteen at the time of the crime) and pregnant women. In 1989 the General Assembly adopted the Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant, asserting that "No one within the jurisdiction of a State party to the present Optional Protocol shall be executed." This protocol came into force in 1991. Concurrently, the Organization of American States adopted in 1990 a Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty. Interpreting and enforcing these protocols continues to challenge signatory nations, and the United States is by no means the only country seeking for ways to disregard their mandate. Nevertheless, these developments in conjunction with the condition placed on nations wishing to join the Council of Europe that they abolish the death penalty suggest the direction in which the future will unfold (Council of Europe 1998; Schabas).

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