UN and the Declaration of Human Rights

UN Headquarter, New York
Although an increasing number of nations are abolishing the use of the death penalty, capital punishment is still a widespread practice that takes place in several nations, including the United States. Most nations that have abolished the use of the death penalty have cited human rights as a main motivator. But the majority of the 78 nations that currently utilize the death penalty avoid framing capital punishment as a human rights issue.

The United Nations has viewed the death penalty as a human rights issue since 1948, when it adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states that "everyone has the right to life." The 1948 ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights led to 118 nations abolishing the death penalty over the course of the last 60 years.

The Universal Declaration convinced many nations to abolish the death penalty, but since it did not actually require it, there are still many UN nations that continue to use capital punishment. In following years, the United Nations has taken further steps to limit the use of capital punishment, including the International Covenant o­n Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1966, during which the abolishment of the death penalty was strongly encouraged for all but the most serious of crimes. In 1991, a Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant went into force. The Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant required the use of the death penalty be abolished for child offenders.

The United Nations continues to seek a complete abolishment of the death penalty. In 2007, a non-binding resolution calling for a universal moratorium o­n capital punishment was passed in a landslide vote with 104 votes in favor of the resolution, 54 against it and 29 abstentions.