Sunday, 26 October 2014

Morality 23: UNDHR

Higher RMPS Podcast
Capital Punishment - UNDHR

This is available as an MP3 or to download as a podcast through iTunes
for Desktop and Apple devices, as well as PodcastHD for Android Devices.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDoHR), which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948, was the result of the experiences of the Second World War.  With the end of that war, and the creation of the United Nations, the international community vowed never again to allow atrocities like those of that conflict happen again.  World leaders decided to complement the UN Charter with a road map to guarantee the rights of every individual everywhere.  The document they considered, and which would later become the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was taken up at the first session of the General Assembly in 1946.   The Assembly reviewed this draft Declaration on Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms and transmitted it to the Economic and Social Council "for reference to the Commission on Human Rights for its preparation of an international bill of rights."  The Commission, at its first session early in 1947, authorized its members to formulate what it termed "a preliminary draft International Bill of Human Rights".  Later the work was taken over by a formal drafting committee, consisting of members of the Commission from eight States, selected with due regard for geographical distribution.

The Commission on Human Rights was made up of 18 members from various political, cultural and religious backgrounds. Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, chaired the UDHR drafting committee.  The idea behind this was a charter that outlined the rights and freedoms afforded to every human, regardless of background.  The UNDoHR underpinned the European Human Rights legislation and the UK Human Rights Act.

KU questions on this topic often look like:

·         Describe UN Declarations that are relevant to Capital Punishment.  (3 KU)

However it is important to note that the UNDoHR has no stance on Capital Punishment.  None.  It is a document that enshrines human rights.  Abolitionists use the document, as religious followers use sacred writings, to argue against the death penalty.  Articles used are 1, 3, and 5:

Article one is used to show that we should act towards each other in a spirit of brotherhood.  The gender pronouns here are non-specific, it is saying we should take care of each other as if they were family.  Granted the person being executed has broken this article; however, we are all free moral-agents and as such we are each responsible for our own morality.  Two wrongs don’t make a right.
Article 3 is more declarative.  Everyone has the right to life.  A right is something that you are, in every circumstance, entitled to.  Abolitionists use this to show that by executing someone we violate their right to life.  However, the article also gives the person the right to liberty which is their freedom.  Prison effectively violates this right.  Surely we can’t start the practice of following some articles and not others?  This is why it is difficult saying the UNDoHR is for or against the death penalty. 
Article 5 is precise that no one should be tortured.  Section 134 of the UK Criminal Justice Act 1988 makes it an offence for any public official to “intentionally inflict severe pain or suffering on another in the performance of his official duties”.  The eighth amendment of the US Constitution states that “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted”.  Therefore international law, UK, and US laws all prohibit torture.  However, the above sections show that several methods of execution, including the wait and delays, can themselves be torturous.  However, again this is not directed specifically at the death penalty.  The US, and to a lesser extent the UK, were complicit in torture in the post-9/11 intelligence gathering.

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