On October 10NS, both the European Union and the Council of Europe (CoE) will be on 19thNS Annual World Day Against the Death Penalty, with this year’s addition for women who have been executed facing execution or the death penalty, as well as those whose death sentences have been commuted or otherwise annulled.
The annual event marks an important moment for the human rights work of these two European institutions. The Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Marija Pejčinović Burić, signed joint declarations in which she declared “under all circumstances against the use of the death penalty” and “the universal abolition of the death penalty “With the EU High Representative Federica Mogherini in 2019 and Josep Borrell Fontelles in 2020.
In the margins of this year’s autumn session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), held last week in Strasbourg, France, a group of 23 parliamentarians, led by PACE Vice-President Laima Andrikienė, signed a statement welcoming the Republic of Kazakhstan’s decision to adopt the death penalty to abolish, Chad joined as one of two countries last year.
As a partner to both the European Union and the Council of Europe under the auspices of the Central Asia Rule of Law Program, Kazakhstan’s ongoing reform of human rights and the rule of law is being promoted in close coordination with the two European bodies. The EU Special Representative on Human Rights, Ireland’s Eamon Gilmore, is actually meeting with officials in Kazakhstan this week to discuss the progress of these initiatives.
At the end of 2020, the government of Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev signed and ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (IPBPR). This made Kazakhstan the 89thNS UN member state to ratify the protocol that was adopted by the United Nations in 1989 and the first article of which categorically states that “no one who is under the jurisdiction of a state party to this protocol may be executed”.
As noted in their statement by PACE Vice-President Andrikienė and her co-signatories, Kazakhstan’s move to ratify the Second Optional Protocol – and the other commitments made by President Tokayev in his speech at the UN General Assembly last month, is “the fundamental right to life and To fulfill human dignity “-” in accordance with the values and principles of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe “and testify to” Kazakhstan’s determination to fight this cruel and inhuman punishment “.
The move by the Kazakh government to permanently reject the death penalty as a legal instrument brings it an important step closer to human rights standards in the 47 countries of the Council of Europe, none of which carry out executions. In all of Europe, only Belarus – which is not a member of the Council of Europe – still imposes the death penalty. The chairman of the Belarusian Constitutional Court confirmed last week that no abolition would be an option in a constitutional referendum in the Eastern European country next year.
While the EU and the Council of Europe have achieved considerable success in abolishing the death penalty (at least outside Belarus) over the past four decades, the abolition of the death penalty in other parts of the world is only half won.
Given Kazakhstan’s position between the two most productive state executioners in the world (China and the Islamic Republic of Iran), the decision of Central Asia’s most prominent economic and diplomatic actor sends an important message to the rest of the region, even if Kazakhstan’s judicial system hadn’t even resulted in a death sentence enforced since a moratorium was imposed in 2003.
The adoption of the Second Optional Protocol by Kazakhstan is also significant because of the country’s leading position in the Islamic world. After China, the four world leaders in executions are Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East: Iran, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, in that order.
While pressure from Western governments and human rights organizations has not changed the thinking of officials in these states, the trend towards abolition in Central Asia could help to gradually shift the tone of the discourse on the death penalty. With the ratification of the second Optional Protocol, Kazakhstan joins Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, with only Tajikistan of the six Muslim-majority former Soviet republics not joining the agreement.
Of course, the black mark on global human rights represented by the death penalty is rarely limited to countries with a Muslim majority. Of the six observer states to the Council of Europe, Japan, Israel and the United States still have the death penalty on their books. Japan and the United States are the only two industrial democracies that still conduct executions and have not signed or ratified the Second Optional Protocol.
While congratulating external partner countries like Kazakhstan for adopting their human rights norms, PACE members also need to wonder how they can convince the Council of Europe’s own observer countries to do the same.
Photo credit: Adrian Grycuk / Wikimedia Commons (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 PL)