10 October 2022 |Reference 58/2022
10 October marks the 20th World Day Against the Death Penalty. This year’s commemoration comes at a time when the State of Palestine continues to fail to fulfill its obligations stemming from its accession to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) of 1989 aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, which is to apply over the entire Palestinian territory. Yet, since its accession to the Second Optional Protocol on 18 March 2019, the State of Palestine has not harmonized its national legislation with the Protocol’s provisions, whose Article 1 requires each State Party to take all necessary measures to abolish the death penalty within its jurisdiction.
Since the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority in 1994, Palestinian courts have handed down 281 death sentences—251 in the Gaza Strip and 30 in the West Bank. According to Al Mezan, there have been 90 executions in Gaza and 5 in the West Bank. Following the ratification of the Second Optional Protocol in early 2019, Palestinian courts in the Gaza Strip have issued 52 death sentences—18 of them since the beginning of 2022 alone. Although Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has never ratified any death sentence since he took office in 2005 and no executions have been carried out in the West Bank, Gaza’s judiciary continues to issue death sentences and carry out executions without any regard for the President’s ratification or the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR.
Al Mezan is a longtime advocate for the abolition of the death penalty. There is abundant evidence that the death penalty is not compatible with the purposes of modern criminal philosophy, which aims to reform and rehabilitate the individual offender. On the one hand, execution excludes the person from existence; on the other hand, the application of correction and rehabilitation programs becomes meaningless. Moreover, the death penalty has proven to be useless since serious crimes punishable by death have not ceased, not to mention the fact that it is irreversible and irreparable in case miscarriages of justice are detected after execution.
From the perspective of international law, the death penalty constitutes a form of inhuman punishment and contravenes Palestine’s human rights obligation. In addition to the Second Optional Protocol, there are numerous international efforts toward the abolition of the death penalty. For instance, the UN General Assembly issued a set of resolutions urging the States to reduce the number of offenses for which the death penalty may be imposed and limit its application and urged the States which have abolished the death penalty not to reintroduce it. And while Article 6 ICCPR permits the use of the death penalty in limited circumstances, it also provides that “nothing in this article shall be invoked to delay or to prevent the abolition of capital punishment by any State Party to the present Covenant”, including the State of Palestine. Notably, Decision No. 5 (2017) of the Palestinian Supreme Constitutional Court stipulated that international conventions must be incorporated into national laws to enter into force nationally.
On World Day Against the Death Penalty, considering the foregoing and the current state of legal affairs in Palestine deriving from the division among public authorities, the many difficulties in holding general elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council, and the fact that the death penalty is an inhumane punishment that violates the right to life, Al Mezan calls on Palestinian authorities immediately abolish the death penalty from national legislation.
We further note that the objective of Palestine’s accession to core human rights conventions should not only be to strengthen Palestine’s political and legal position at the international level but at the internal level as well, by enabling Palestinians to benefit from the rights guaranteed under those conventions in their daily life. This requires rebuilding the Palestinian political system on democratic grounds, holding public elections, and integrating international human rights law obligations into the Palestinian legal system, and promoting the principle of the independence of the judiciary, as one of the guarantees of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
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