Report No. 35
Topic Number 12
Abolition move in United Nations
64. Abolition in United Nations.-
The subject of Capital Punishment attracted attention in the United Nations also, towards the end of 1957, when the Third Committee of the Twelfth U.N. General Assembly opened discussion on Article 6 of the Draft Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The draft is quoted below1:-
"1. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life. Everyone's right to his life shall be protected by law.
"2. In countries where capital punishment exists, sentence of death may be imposed only as a penalty for the most serious crimes pursuant to the sentence of a competent court and in accordance with the law.".
1. See Joyce Right to Life, (1962), p. 178.
65. The delegate for Uruguay moved an amendment, the effect of which was to prohibit the taking of life under any circumstances whatsoever, and this was supported by the delegate for Colombia. A lot of discussion took place on the drafting of the clause, and the Colombia-Uruguay amendment to the effect that "The death penalty shall not be imposed on any person" was voted down on 25th November, 1957 with nine in favour (Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Finland, Italy, Panama, Uruguay and Venezuela) and 51 against, with 12 absentions1.
1. Joyce Right to Life, (1962), p. 196.
66. The Article as finally approved by the Committee read as follows:-
1. Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No. one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.
2. In countries which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes in accordance with law in force at the time of the commission of the crime and not contrary to the provisions of this Covenant and to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This penalty can only be carried out pursuant to a final judgment rendered by a competent Court.
3. When deprivation of life constitutes the crime of Genocide, it is understood that nothing in this article shall authorise any State Party to derogate in any way from any obligation assumed under the provisions of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
4. Anyone sentenced to death shall have the right to seek pardon or commutation of the sentence. Amnesty, pardon or commutation of the sentence of death may be granted in all cases.
5. Sentence of death shall not be imposed for crimes committed by persons below eighteen years of age and shall not be carried out on pregnant women.
6. Nothing in this article shall be invoked to delay or to prevent the abolition of capital punishment by any State Party to the Covenant.".
This was approved by 55 votes to none, with 17 abstentions. (India did not abstain. It voted in favour)1.
1. See Joyce Right to Life, (1962), p. 197, foot-note 1.
67. Two years later, the same Third Committee discussed a draft resolution on Capital Punishment, the main effect of which was to invite the Economic and Social Council to request the Commission on Human Rights to undertake a study of the question1. This resolution was moved by Austria, Ceylon, Ecuador, Italy, Sweden, Venezuela and Uruguay. The resolution was adopted in substance, and on the 6th April, 1960 the Economic and Social Council decided to initiate a review of the various aspects of this question2.
1. Joyce Right to Life, (1962), p. 199.
2. The study has since been published under the title "Capital Punishment" by the United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, New York (1962), Document No. ST/SOA/SD/9