International efforts to combat the death penalty

The right to life is enshrined in both global and regional human rights conventions. The right to life and respect for human dignity and inviolability are the underlying principles on which all other human rights and the fundamental principles of the rule of law are based. The use of the death penalty is a violation of these principles and is, in itself, inhumane.

Efforts to abolish the death penalty are an integral part of the Government’s human rights policy. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs uses a broad range of tools in addressing this issue in international and regional organisations, as well as when engaging directly with individual countries.

Norway urges the authorities in countries where the death penalty is still practised to introduce an immediate moratorium, and to abolish the death penalty both in legislation and in practice. Norway also insists that international minimum standards are complied with and encourages greater openness and access to information in those countries where the death penalty is still practised, in order to strengthen legal protection. In some countries, Norway is working to prevent the death penalty from being reintroduced.

When the death penalty is carried out in a particularly inhumane way or used against minors, pregnant women or persons who cannot be deemed criminally responsible, this is a clear violation of international law. So too is the use of the death penalty in cases where proper legal protection has not been ensured during the legal process, and in cases where it is used for actions that cannot be considered as the most serious crimes. When Norway learns of such cases, we make our views known to the responsible authorities, either alone or together with the EU and other like-minded countries. The countries that practise use of the death penalty most frequently today are China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Iraq. There are various places around the world where prisoners are subject to inhumane treatment by having to wait in uncertainty on death row for many years. There is still wrongful execution of people who are later found to be innocent. In some cases the death penalty violates the human rights and legal protection of individuals, and moreover, experience shows that it has no deterrent effect on crime in society.

The global trend is towards abolition of the death penalty. At the time the UN was established in 1945, only eight states had abolished the death penalty for all crimes. By 1977, this figure had risen to 16, and today approximately 160 of the 193 UN member states have abolished the death penalty either by law or in practice, according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

This is also reflected in the UN. Norway, together with a broad alliance of countries, has ensured extensive and increasing support for the UN resolution urging all states to introduce a moratorium on the use of the death penalty as a step towards full abolition. In addition to its efforts in the UN and in specific countries, Norway cooperates with and supports NGOs and human rights defenders who are involved in strategic, long-term efforts to abolish the death penalty in multiple regions.

As part of the Government’s international efforts, Norway hosted the 6th World Congress against the Death Penalty in 2016. Events of this type bring together individual states, the UN, civil society organisations, various experts and committed individuals, enabling them to share their experience, knowledge, networks and ability to exert an influence. This helps to mobilise support, including in countries that have not yet abolished the death penalty.

Although the death penalty is not prohibited under international law, there are strict limitations on states in place. Key instruments in this respect are the Second Optional Protocol to the UNs International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (OP2), the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Council of Europe has made abolition of the death penalty a prerequisite for membership.

Norway’s priorities:

  • encourage all countries to abolish the death penalty by law or introduce a moratorium on executions and become party to OP2, which aims to achieve the abolition of the death penalty;
  • encourage countries that have not removed the death penalty from their legislation to introduce a moratorium on its use as a first step towards abolition, and vote in favour of the UN’s resolution on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty;
  • urge states that have retained provisions for the death penalty in their legislation, but that do not carry out executions, to remove these provisions from their legislation and not to reintroduce the death penalty;
  • support and follow up the anti-death penalty efforts of civil society organisations at country level in various regions;
  • put forth ethical, legal and empirical arguments for the abolition of the death penalty.

Guidelines for efforts to abolish the death penalty:

External links: