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Child Labor

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The use of the death penalty for crimes committed by people younger than 18 is prohibited under international human rights law, yet some countries still execute child offenders. Such executions are few compared to the total number of executions in the world. Their significance goes beyond their number and calls into question the commitment of the executing states to respect international law.

Since 1990 Amnesty International has documented executions of child offenders in seven countries: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the USA and Yemen. At least two of these countries, Pakistan and Yemen, have since changed their laws to exclude the practice. The country which has carried out the greatest number of known executions is the USA.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases as a violation of the right to life and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment. As steps towards total abolition of the death penalty, it supports measures which limit the scope of capital punishment. These include laws which exclude the execution of child offenders -- people convicted of crimes committed under the age of 18.

Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) resolution 1984/50, adopted on 25 May 1984 and endorsed by the UN General Assembly in resolution 39/118 of 14 December 1984): "Persons below 18 years of age at the time of the commission of the crime shall not be sentenced to death. . ."

The first seven instruments cited above are international treaties, binding on all states parties to them. The Safeguards Guaranteeing Protection of the Rights of Those Facing the Death Penalty (ECOSOC Safeguards) are not legally binding but were endorsed by the UN General Assembly without a vote, a sign of a strong consensus among states that their provisions should be observed. (5)

The nearly universal ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is an especially strong sign of an international consensus that the death penalty must not be used against child offenders. As of July 2002, 191 states -- all states except Somalia and the USA -- were parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Somalia and the USA have signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child, indicating their intention to ratify it at a later date. The Fourth Geneva Convention also is very widely ratified; 189 states were parties to it as of July 2002, indicating a consensus that the death penalty must not be used against civilian child offenders in occupied territories who are protected by that Convention. (6)

As mentioned above, the ECOSOC Safeguards stating that people below 18 at the time of the crime must not be sentenced to death were endorsed by the UN General Assembly in 1984. Since then there have been many UN resolutions emphasizing the importance of the ECOSOC Safeguards and the prohibition of using the death penalty against child offenders. (7)

In 1997 the UN Commission on Human Rights adopted resolution 1997/12 on the question of the death penalty, expressing deep concern "that several countries impose the death penalty in disregard of the limitations provided for in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child". The Commission urged "all States that still maintain the death penalty to comply fully with their obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, notably not to impose the death penalty. . . for crimes committed by persons below eighteen years of age", and called upon all such states to observe the ECOSOC Safeguards.(9) The same demand was included in resolution 2002/77, adopted by the Commission on Human Rights in April 2002 (see Appendix 4 of this report for extracts from the resolution). (11)

In August 2000 the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights adopted resolution 2000/17 on "The death penalty in relation to juvenile offenders", condemning unequivocally the use of the death penalty against people under 18 at the time of the offence and affirming that such use "is contrary to customary international law". It called on states that retain the death penalty for child offenders to change their laws as soon as possible and in the meantime "to remind their judges that the imposition of the death penalty against such offenders is in violation of international law". (See Appendix 4 for text.)

Action regarding child offenders has also been taken by the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (11) and by expert bodies set up to monitor the implementation of human rights treaties, notably the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child set up under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Human

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