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Death penalty disproportionately affects poor: UN

World Day Against Death Penalty Tuesday

07 October 2017,Saturday, 08:20



United Nations human rights experts on Friday called for urgent action to end the disproportionate impact of the death penalty on people from poorer communities.

They say imposing the death penalty as a result of discrimination constitutes an arbitrary killing and governments must not stand idly by.

Their comments came in a joint statement marking the World Day Against the Death Penalty that falls on Tuesday.

The UN experts are Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; the Working Group on discrimination against women; Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty; Mutuma Ruteere, Special Rapporteur on racism; and the Working Group on people of African descent.

The disproportionate impact of the death penalty on the poor shows that these international standards are being violated, according to the statement UNB received from Geneva.

"We applaud the growing number of countries that have abolished the death penalty and welcome the figures for 2016 showing an overall decrease in its use," they said.

However, they said global effort towards its progressive abolition must continue to grow, along with the work to end systemic discrimination against some of the most vulnerable people in our societies.

“If you are poor, the chances of being sentenced to death are immensely higher than if you are rich. There could be no greater indictment of the death penalty than the fact that in practice it is really a penalty reserved for people from lower socio-economic groups," said the statement.

This turns it into a class-based form of discrimination in most countries, thus making it the equivalent of an arbitrary killing, they said.

"People living in poverty are disproportionately affected by the death penalty for many reasons," the statement reads.

They are an easy target for the police, they cannot afford a lawyer, the free legal assistance they might receive is of low quality, procuring expert evidence is beyond their means, tracing witnesses is too costly, and access to appeals often depends on being able to afford extra counsel.

"Many cannot afford bail and therefore remain in custody before their trials, further hindering their efforts to prepare an effective defence," the UN experts said.

 

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