This module is a resource for lecturers

The death penalty and organized crime

The United Nations system as a whole, including UNODC, opposes the use of the death penalty in all circumstances (UNODC, 2010; UNODC, 2012; UNODC, 2016). The UN recognizes that because it is irreversible, the death penalty is opposed even when backed by legal process. An increasingly large number of States from all regions have acknowledged that the death penalty undermines human dignity, and that its abolition contributes to the enhancement and progressive development of human rights. In fact, the global trend is towards abolition. Currently, the great majority of UN Member States have either abolished the death penalty or do not practice it.

Several international and regional human rights instruments prohibit the use of the death penalty or encourage its abolition and/or strictly limit its application. In particular, the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, states that "no one within the jurisdiction of a State Party to the present Protocol shall be executed" (UNGA, 1989). In countries that have not abolished the death penalty, international human rights law requires as a minimum, full compliance with the clear restrictions prescribed in particular in article 6 of the ICCPR. However, in accordance with the last paragraph of article 6, the ICCPR provides that "nothing in this article shall be invoked to delay or prevent the abolition of capital punishment in any State party to the Covenant" (see the current status of ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other International Human Rights Treaties).

Other international instruments also provide guidance on the restricted use/abolition of the death penalty. For example, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) specifically prohibits capital punishment "for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age" (UNGA, 1990). Additionally, since 2007, the UN General Assembly has adopted four resolutions (62/149, 63/168, 65/206 and 67/176). These resolutions call on States that maintain the death penalty to establish a moratorium on its use with a view to its abolition, and in the meantime, to restrict the number of death penalty-applicable offences and respect the rights of those on death row. These various instruments and forms of guidance recognize the hindrance to progressive human rights that the death penalty poses (UNODC, 2010; UNODC, 2012; UNODC, 2016).