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Reviving death penalty violates treaty obligations — int’l experts

April 18, 2017 ·  By TINA PANGANIBAN-PEREZ, GMA News for www.gmanetwork.com

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Two international experts on law and the death penalty on Thursday warned the Philippines that reimposing capital punishment would violate the country’s international treaty obligations and might result in the country being an international pariah.

Prof. Baron Marc Bossuyt, president emeritus of the Constitutional Court of Belgium and a member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and Prof. Konstantine Vardzelashvili, vice president of the Constitutional Court of Georgia, reminded the Philippines that it is a signatory to the second optional protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that abolishes the death penalty.

The said protocol does not contain any provision that allows a signatory to withdraw from it.

“Not only you may not reintroduce the death penalty when you are party to the second optional protocol but you cannot withdraw from that second optional protocol,” said Bossuyt, former UN special rapporteur during the drafting of the second optional protocol.

“That’s also a rule of international law, that you can only denounce a treaty or withdraw from a treaty when the treaty contains provisions on withdrawal and denouncement. And that is one of those rather rare text that does not have such a clause,” he added.

The bill reimposing the death penalty is a priority legislation of the Duterte administration. If the bill is enacted into law, Bossuyt warned that the Philippines might lose its standing in the international community.

“It would definitely impair the credibility of the Philippines as a law abiding state and as a state that respects its international obligation. Why should a country conclude a treaty with a country we know that does not respect its treaty obligation?” Bossuyt said.

Bossuyt warned the Philippines might suffer the fate of Chile during the term of Gen. Augusto Pinochet when it lost the support of many countries because of its human rights violations.

“You will definitely lose friends. The Philippines has friends and I think you need friends in the world. And one of the reasons why the Philippines has friends was because it has a better human rights standard than many other countries in the region. You will lose that advantage,” Bossuyt said.

There are currently 84 countries that are party to the second optional protocol.

If ever the Philippines reimposes the death penalty, it will be the first signatory to backtrack. “And it’s not something you should be proud of,” Bossuyt said.

Legislators who favor the reimposition of the death penalty argue that the Philippine Constitution allows it, provided there are compelling reasons.

To convince more legislators to support the bill, the leadership of the House of Representatives has softened its stand on the mandatory imposition of the death penalty on heinous crimes and made it optional.
But Bossuyt maintained that “as long as the death penalty is an option, it’s a violation of the international obligations of the Philippines.”

Bossuyt said the only way to keep the country’s international treaty obligations without violating our Constitution is to not impose the death penalty.

“The Constitution does not make capital punishment mandatory. There’s no obligation to have capital punishment. So the only way to respect as well your international law obligations as your constitutional rules is not having the death penalty,” he stresses.

Prof. Vardzelashvili also argues that there is no evidence to show that death penalty is effective to prevent a crime.

In fact, he says there is always the danger that an innocent person will be executed.

“Every system, even the perfect judicial system, is not guaranteed from making mistakes. The mistakes happen everywhere, especially in the systems that are prone to corruption or where there are no guarantees of a fair trial,” Vardzelashvili said.

“In any state where the judiciary is not functioning as well as we want it to function, the risk of a mistake increases significantly. So we will end up with effects where innocent people will be prosecuted and convicted to death and then executed. And that is irreversible,” he added.

Vardzelashvili said social and rehabilitation policies should be implemented instead of bringing back the death penalty.

Plenary debates on the death penalty bill are ongoing at the House of Representatives. Congressmen are expected to vote on the measure on March 8. — MDM, GMA News

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