On March 1, 2005 in the case of Roper v. Simmons, the US Supreme Court, held in a 5-4 vote that the death penalty, as applied
to those under eighteen years of age at the time of the crime, violates evolving
standards of decency and is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment ban on "cruel
and unusual punishment" of the US Constitution.
The page below consists of archived information.
For further information on the decision and context click
As can be seen below, there is a growing body of international treaty and
customary law prohibiting capital punishment as it pertains to juvenile offenders-
those below 18 years of age at the time of the offense. For an overview of
international law as it pertains to juveniles and capital punishment, please click
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) specifically
prohibits the execution of juvenile offenders under Article 37 (a). Further,
Article 6 (5) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights (ICCPR) prohibits the death sentence for “crimes committed
by persons below eighteen years of age.”The United States has a reservation
to Article 6 (5), reserving the “right, subject to its constitutional
constraints to impose capital punishment on any person, including such punishment
for crimes committed by persons below 18 years of age.”The validity of
this provision is questionable.
Even in times of war, international law prohibits juveniles from being executed.
This is confirmed in Article 68 of the Fourth Geneva Convention
Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.
Regional treaties also establish this prohibition. In the Inter-American system,
Article 4 (5) of the American Convention on Human Rights prohibits
the execution of juveniles. Indeed within Europe, Protocol
No. 6 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental
Freedoms Concerning the Abolition of the Death Penalty, as amended by Protocol
No. 11 prohibits the imposition of the death penalty in peace time. Following
on from Protocol No. 6, Protocol
No.13 abolishes the death penalty in all circumstances including crimes
committed at times of war and imminent danger. Further, abolition of the death
penalty is a prerequisite for joining the European Union. For more information
on the European Union and the Inter-American System please
The UN has issued various resolutions prohibiting the
execution of juveniles including: Human Rights in the Administration of Justice,
in Particular Juvenile Justice; Rights of the Child; Human Rights in Administration
of Justice, Resolution 56/161; United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the
Administration of Juvenile Justice ("The Beijing Rules"), G.A. res.
40/33, The Question of the Death Penalty; Safeguards Guaranteeing Protection
of the Rights of Those Facing the Death Penalty, E.S.C. res. 1984/50. For further
information on the United Nations please
Further, on October 22 2002, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
(IACHR) concluded that the prohibition against the execution of juveniles (under
the age of 18 at the time of the offense) was now of a sufficiently indelible
nature to constitute a norm of jus cogens. (Report
No. 62/02, Case No. 12.285 Michael Domingues & United States)
As the IACHR explained norms of jus cogens "derive their status
from fundamental values held by the international community, as violations
of such peremptory norms are considered to shock the conscience of humankind
and therefore bind the international community as a whole, irrespective of
protest, recognition or acquiescence."
Before the decision in Simmons the United States stood practically alone in
the practice of executing juvenile offenders. Since 1990, only eight countries
have reportedly executed juvenile offenders: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, the
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Yemen, Pakistan, China and the United States.
In the last three years, the small number of nations known to have executed
such offenders has further declined to only five: the DRC, Iran, Pakistan,
China and the United States. In fact, in the year 2002 only the US had reportedly
executed a juvenile offender. In 2003, the United States and China each executed
one juvenile offender. The only other country reported to have sentenced a
juvenile to death is Sudan; on 26 April, 2003: a 15 year old was sentenced
to death, along with 23 others for crimes committed during a raid on a village.
For reported worldwide executions of juveniles since 1990 please click here.
In 1994, Yemen changed its law to prohibit the execution of juveniles. In
December 1999, the DRC called for a moratorium on all executions. However,
in January 2000, a 14 year-old child soldier was executed in the DRC. Since
that time, according to OMCT-World Organization Against Torture, four juvenile
offenders sentenced to death in the DRC in a military court were granted stays
and the sentences were commuted following an appeal from the international
community (Case COD 270401.1.CC, 31 May 2001, OMCT-World Organization Against
Torture). The Nigerian government stressed to the UN Sub-Commission that the
execution, which took place in 1997, was not of a juvenile (See Summary Record
of 6th Meeting of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human
Rights, 52nd Sess., 4th August, 2000, E/CN.4/Sub.2/2000/SR.6 para.39 (2000)).
Saudi Arabia emphatically denies the 1992 execution of a juvenile (See Summary
Record of the 53rd Meeting of the Commission on Human Rights, 56th Sess., April,
17, 200, E/CN.4/2000/SR.53, paras 88 and 92).
In July 2000, Pakistan moved to outlaw the execution of juvenile offenders
under the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance. Despite this ordinance, on 3 November
2001, Pakistan executed Ali Sher for a crime he committed at the age of 13.
Since this execution, President Musharrah of Pakistan commuted the death sentences
of approximately 100 young offenders to imprisonment. This shift away from
the juvenile death penalty is supported by the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s
decision on March 26, 2003 to “peruse and define laws relating to “the
imposition of the death sentence (on) young people. Further, it is reported
that Iran's judiciary has drafted a bill to be presented to parliament shortly
raising the minimum age for death sentences to eighteen from fifteen and also
excluding under-18s from receiving life terms or lashings as punishment. However,
recently it is believed that Iran has executed juvenile offenders, for further
information, please see Amnesty International.
Fourth Geneva Convention
Relative to the Protection of Civilian persons in Time of War, 75
U.N.T.S. 287, entered into force Oct. 21, 1950. Ratified by the United
States: August 2, 1955.
Article 68: In any case the death penalty may not be pronounced against
a protected person who was under 18 years of age at the time of the offense.
The implication of this treaty is that if the parties do not believe that
the execution of juveniles at times of war is immoral it is certainly immoral
at times of peace.
on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR -152 state parties), G.A. res.
2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966),
999 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force Mar. 23, 1976. Signed by the United
States: October 5, 1977, ratified: June 8, 1992.
Article 6(5): Sentences of death shall not be imposed for crimes committed
by persons below 18 years of age
The United States of America has reserved the right to continue to execute
juveniles. Eleven nations have filed complaints with the Human Rights Commission
(the Commission in charge of monitoring compliance with the terms of the ICCPR).
Theses objecting nations are among the closest allies of the US: France, Sweden,
Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and
U.S. Reservations on the ICCPR
UN Convention on
the Rights of the Child, G.A. res. 44/25, annex, 44 U.N. GAOR Supp.
(No. 49) at 167, U.N. Doc. A/44/49 (1989), entered into force Sept. 2,
Signed by the United States: February 16, 1995, not ratified.
Article 37a: No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman
or degrading treatment or punishment. Neither capital punishment nor life
imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offenses
committed by persons below eighteen years of age.
Archived News Articles
January 29, 2005 - U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child deplores execution
of a juvenile in Iran
A United Nations human rights body called on Iran on Friday to abolish the
death penalty as well as amputation, flogging and stoning for people who committed
crimes as minors.
The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child "deplored" the fact
that during its 3-week session an Iranian was executed for a killing carried
out when he was 17 -- contradicting Iran's statement that it had suspended
the death penalty for people accused of crimes while juveniles.
U.N. officials said Iman Farrokhi, found guilty of killing a member of Iran's
security forces at age 17, was hanged in Tehran's notorious Evin prison on
(source: Alertnet, January 29, 2005)
Sept 29, 2003 - Iran to ban death penalty for those under 18
Iran will soon enact a law banning death penalty for offenders under 18 years
Iran's judiciary has drafted a Bill to be presented to parliament shortly
raising the minimum age for death sentences to 18 from 15 and also excluding
under-18s from receiving life terms or lashing as punishment, media in Iran
quoted Alireza Jamshidi, Secretary of the Supreme Council for Judicial Development,
"The new law fully complies with Sharia law and modern judicial developments," he
was quoted as saying by Yas-e No newspaper.
The death penalty in Iran, where Islamic Sharia law is practised, can be imposed
on those convicted of murder, drug trafficking, rape, armed robbery, blasphemy
and apostasy (the abandonment of one's religion).
Most executions are carried out behind prison walls by hanging although occasionally
criminals are hung from cranes in public squares.
(source: Press Trust of India) - Sept 29, 2003
April 30, 2003 - News Release Issued by the International Secretariat of
Sudan: 24 Sentenced to death after unfair trial
Amnesty International is gravely concerned at the death sentences passed on
24 people, including a 15-year-old minor, in a Special Court in Nyala, South
Darfur.The court found the group guilty on 26 April of murdering 25 villagers,
wounding 18 others, and burning homes and other buildings during a raid on
the village of Singita south of Kas in Darfur.
"The procedures in Special Courts set up under the State of Emergency
are grossly unfair, The accused were tried without proper legal representation.
They were held without access to family members and lawyers since their arrest
in January," Amnesty International said.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty unconditionally. It is a violation
of the right to life and has never been proved to have any deterrent effect.
The court also sentenced one member of the group to three years in jail for
arms possession, while another minor was given 3 years in areformatory. 12
defendants were acquitted. The sentence can be appealed.
"The state has a duty to punish those who commit such crimes but they
must be given a fair trial and not be sentenced to death. The government of
Sudan must ensure that those sentenced are given a fair hearing during the
appeal process," Amnesty International said.
(source: Amnesty International) (April 30, 2003)
March 26, 2003 - [Supreme Court of Pakistan] to define laws on juvenile
The Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday observed it would peruse and define laws
relating to death sentence to young people as many such cases were pending
and minors were languishing in death cells due to legal complications.
A full bench consisting of Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, Justice Qazi Farooq
and Justice Hamid Mirza barred a committee, set up by the Punjab Home Department,
from looking into the laws relating to the juvenile and observed that only
judiciary could define the laws and a legal review was out of the executives
Justice Chaudhry gave this ruling in a petition wherein the aggrieved had
filed a contempt petition against non-implementation of the court order regarding
death sentence to a minor, Hafiz Najeebullah.
An Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) had sentenced Najeebullah to death for a murder
and his family had filed an appeal against the ATC decision in the Lahore High
Court (LHC) that dismissed the appeal and upheld the ATC decision. The convict
then moved the SC that also dismissed the appeal, and later a review plea was
Najeebullahs family filed a mercy plea to the President of Pakistan but that
too was rejected, and consequently black warrants were issued for Najeebullah.
While the convict was in a death cell, on October 10, 2001 his family sought
a stay against the execution orders on the ground of a compromise between the
convict and the aggrieved party.
Meanwhile, in 2002 the president promulgated an ordinance regarding ban on
capital punishment to those under 18.
Najeebullahs family again filed an appeal in the high court on the basis of
the new presidential ordinance. The high court referred the case to the Home
Department for adjudication whether the ordinance could be applicable to a
convict who was underage at the time of the crime, and he attained the age
of 18 later.
In compliance with high courts order the government of Punjab formed a committee
under the home secretary. But the aggrieved party moved the SC by filing a
contempt petition on the ground that the courts order regarding a capital punishment
to Najeebullah was not being implemented.
Initiating the proceedings in the contempt petition the court on Wednesday
restricted the review committee from looking into the matter and adjourned
the proceedings till April 7 to define the laws regarding juvenile cases.
The counsel for the aggrieved, Mr Asghar Khan Rokri, told the court that all
the appeals were dismissed, and as such any delay in Najeebullahs execution
would be tantamount to contempt of court.
However, state counsel Mr K F Butt told the court the review committee was
working to comply with the instructions of the high court and as such it would
soon present its report but the apex court directed them to halt the review
and adjourned the hearing for April 7 next.
(source: The Daily Times)