Human Rights Expert calls for support for the two 'other' Referendums

Monday, 28 May 2001

Release date: 28 May, 2001

Human Rights Expert calls for support for the two other Referendums

While most attention has been paid to the ratification of the Treaty of Nice on 7th June, two other referendums will also take place on that day. These provide for a constitutional amendment approving of the International Criminal Court and prohibiting introduction of the death penalty.

"These two referendums, which raise very important human rights concerns, appear to have been marginalised by public debate about the Nice Treaty", said Professor William A. Schabas, director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights. Professor Schabas explained that the Centre, located at National University of Ireland, Galway, is concerned that public opinion be properly sensitised to the importance of the abolition of capital punishment and support for the International Criminal Court.

"Ireland appears to be the first country in the world to have such a referendum on capital punishment", said Professor Schabas. "Although capital punishment has been abolished in Ireland for many years, the constitutional referendum will prevent capricious legislators from reintroducing it", he explained.

The recent debate in the Oireachtas on the death penalty referendum indicated virtual unanimity. Only one TD spoke in favour of capital punishment, but his arguments were antiquated and out of step with the current debate. He insisted on the death penalty's alleged deterrent value. But virtually all experts now agree that compared with detention in prison, capital punishment offers no measurable additional deterrent value."The deterrence thesis has been abandoned even by capital punishment's fervent advocates in the United States", noted Professor Schabas. A recent poll shows that even the American public no longer believes in deterrence. "If the public doesn't believe it deters, then who exactly is being deterred?" he asked.Internationally, the recent success of abolitionism has been dramatic. In 1989, Amnesty International published figures showing 100 states still retained the death penalty while 80 had abolished it in one form or another. This year, the Secretary-General of the United Nations reported that 123 states have abolished capital punishment, and only 70 still use it.

"Within the past decade, Russia dropped capital punishment as a condition for joining the Council of Europe and South Africa eliminated it by judgement of its new Constitutional Court. Only last week the Ukraine abolished capital punishment", added Professor Schabas. "Abolitionism also now prevails in Latin America and much of Africa".

"A successful Irish referendum on capital punishment will have international repercussions," said Professor Schabas. "It will testify to evolving public opinion in a mature, progressive society. It may also give a friendly nudge to the Americans, who are doing a lot of soul-searching on the question right now." "But if Ireland is in the forefront on the death penalty, it is seriously dragging its heals with respect to the International Criminal Court", said Professor Schabas. Already, thirty-two countries have ratified the Rome Statute, which will come into force with the sixtieth ratification, likely to take place within the next twelve months.

"Although Irish diplomats have been very supportive of the Court", said Professor Schabas, "it has taken three years since adoption of the Rome Statute for the referendum to be held. Assuming it is successful, Ireland will still need to adopt legislation to permit co-operation with the Court before it can ratify the Statute.

"It is extremely important that implementing legislation be adopted without delay. Otherwise Ireland will not be one of the original parties when the Court is established, and will not be able to nominate a judge", Professor Schabas warned.

The Irish Centre for Human Rights, at the National University of Ireland, Galway, is engaged in teaching, research and advocacy relating to human rights within Ireland and internationally.

Professor is available for interview on both referendums.

End

For more information:M√°ire Mhic Uidhir, Press Officer, NUI, Galway. Tel. 091 750418

« Back