UN experts urge Filipino legislators to reject death penalty bill
GENEVA (16 March 2017) – Lawmakers in the Philippines are being urged by the UN Special Rapporteurs on extrajudicial executions and torture* to reject a proposed Death Penalty Bill which is under consideration in Manila.
The proposed “Death Penalty Bill” which would reintroduce capital punishment for drug-related offences, defined in the text as “heinous crimes”, would replace the Republic Act which prohibits the imposition of capital punishment in the Philippines.
The measure was approved by the House of Representatives on 7 March and has now moved to the Senate for approval. Discussions there have been suspended at sub-Committee level to allow for consideration of the Philippines’ international legal obligations.
“We are deeply concerned with the proposal to reinstate the death penalty in the Philippines. If approved, the bill will set the Philippines starkly against the global trend towards abolition and would entail a violation of the country’s obligations under international law,” noted the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, and the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Nils Melzer.
In 2006, the Philippines abolished the death penalty, for a second time, and subsequently became the first country in Southeast Asia to ratify the Second Optional Protocol of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, which forbids executions and commits the country to abolish the death penalty.
“The Philippines has an obligation to stay away from this form of punishment and cannot legally reintroduce it in its jurisdiction,” the experts emphasized.
Regarding speculation that the Philippines may claim that the Protocol is invalid on procedural grounds, the experts stressed that “not only was the treaty ratified and widely advertised, but State authorities have also expressly confirmed on numerous occasions its validity and binding nature on the Philippines, without raising any concerns over the procedure through which it had been ratified.”
The experts also noted that “the move would constitute a departure from the country’s regional leadership and global position as advocate of the abolition of the death penalty in international forums.”
So far, more than two-thirds of all countries in the world, that’s 141 States, have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice.
“It is inconceivable that a country which has been at the forefront of the campaign against the death penalty would restore it, in clear violation of its obligations under the protocol” the experts added.
They further noted that the proposed bill punishes by death a series of drug-related offences, including the import, sale, manufacture, delivery and distribution of narcotics, as well as crimes committed under the influence of dangerous drugs.
“This is clearly not permitted under international law, which requires that even States retaining the death penalty may impose it only for the most serious crimes, that is, those involving intentional killing. Drug related offences do not meet this threshold,” they said.
They also noted “the lack of any persuasive evidence that the death penalty contributes more than any other punishment to reducing criminality or drug-trafficking. Therefore, reintroducing this punishment as a deterrent for drug-trafficking is as illegal as it is futile.”
The experts made clear that “the use of the death penalty negates the inherent dignity of human beings, causes severe mental and physical pain or suffering and constitutes a violation of the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”