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International Instruments

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 here

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 here.

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 click here.

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 click here.

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.

  • American Convention on Human Rights . O.A.S. Treaty Series No. 36, 1144 U.N.T.S. 123 entered into force July 18, 1978, reprinted in Basic Documents Pertaining to Human Rights in the Inter-American System, OEA/Ser.L.V/II.82 doc.6 rev.1 at 25 (1992). Signed by the United States: June 1, 1977, not ratified.

    Article 4(5): Capital punishment shall not be imposed upon persons who at the time the crime was committed was under 18 years of age

  • 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.

  • International Covenant 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 Spain.

    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, 1990.
    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.

  • For additional Information and Resources click here.

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 Jan. 20.

(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 of age.

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, as saying.

"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 Amnesty International

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 capital punishment

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 jurisdiction.

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 also rejected.

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)