Philip Alston, (left), the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary executions, presented his latest annual reports to the Human Rights Council sometime in late March 2007.
Alston and the PAP government (which was aided by the state prostitutes aka the local media) were going at it at each other in 2005 during the Nguyen case. The local media, being the PAP-govt’s parrot, created an image of Alston as another westerner out to create trouble with his bunch of baloney.
Imposing the death penalty only for the “most serious crimes”
International human rights law provides that States which retain the death penalty can only impose it for “the most serious crimes”. That phrase has thus assumed major importance in efforts to determine when the death penalty might acceptably be imposed. While its precise meaning has not been spelled out in treaty form, the debates over its drafting, principles of interpretation adopted subsequently, and the by now very extensive practice of international human rights mechanisms have all combined to clarify the meaning and significance of the phrase.
The Human Rights Committee has reached conclusions regarding the principled content of the “most serious crimes” provision that are consistent with, and give further refinement to, those expressed in the safeguards and the comments of the Secretary-General. In one of its earliest general comments, the Committee observed that: “[t]he deprivation of life by the authorities of the State is a matter of the utmost gravity. Therefore, the law must strictly control and limit the circumstances in which a person may be deprived of his life by such authorities . …The Committee is of the opinion that the expression ‘most serious crimes’ must be read restrictively to mean that the death penalty should be a quite exceptional measure.”
The conclusion to be drawn from a thorough and systematic review of the jurisprudence of all of the principal United Nations bodies charged with interpreting these provisions is that the death penalty can only be imposed in such a way that it complies with the stricture that it must be limited to the most serious crimes, in cases where it can be shown that there was an intention to kill which resulted in the loss of life.
The prohibition of the mandatory death penalty
The Special Rapporteur has addressed communications to a number of Governments noting that legislation dictating the mandatory imposition of the death penalty is prohibited under international human rights law. This section more fully elaborates the law underpinning that prohibition.
The understanding that mandatory death sentences are per se violations of human rights law originates in the efforts of a number of judicial and quasi-judicial bodies to distinguish between mandatory death penalty laws that respected human rights and those that did not. Each began by attempting to discern whether a particular offence for which the death penalty was mandatory was sufficiently narrowly drawn that anyone convicted of that offence could justly receive the death penalty. The process of pursuing this case-by-case approach led to the conclusion that even if the offence had been drafted to cover only the “most serious crimes”, there would invariably be other factors regarding each individual case that would be relevant to the legal determination of whether a death sentence would be consistent with also upholding the defendant’s human rights. The conclusion, in theory as well as in practice, was that respect for human rights can be reliably ensured in death penalty cases only if the judiciary engages in case-specific, individualized sentencing that accounts for all of the relevant factors.