DEATH PENALTY: New Arab Charter deviates from the CRC

CRIN: Children Rights Information Network:


Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, Palestinian Occupied Territories, Saudi Arabia, Syrian Arab Republic, United Arab Emirates

The Arab Charter on Human Rights contains provisions that do not meet international norms and standards, including the application of the death penalty for children, and the treatment of women and non-citizens, the United Nations human rights chief said.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour issued a statement saying that her office “does not endorse these inconsistencies [and] we continue to work with all stakeholders in the region to ensure the implementation of universal human rights norms.”

Conflict with the CRC?

Under the Arab Charter, the death penalty can be applied to children in certain circumstances, in contradiction with its prohibition in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child forbids the death penalty for children under the age of 18 years. However, Article 7 of the Charter states:

“Sentence of death shall not be imposed on persons under 18 years of age, unless otherwise stipulated in the laws in force at the time of the commission of the crime.”

But, another provision in the Charter suggests that the Convention may overrule it. Article 43 of the Charter says:

“Nothing in this Charter may be construed or interpreted as impairing the rights and freedoms protected by the domestic laws of the States parties or those set forth in the international and regional human rights instruments which the States parties have adopted or ratified, including the rights of women, the rights of the child and the rights of persons belonging to minorities.”

Human rights law expert Professor Bill Bowring, of the University of London, said: “It would seem to me that if a country has ratified both the Charter and the Convention, it is going to run into problems.”

The Arab Charter entered into force earlier this month after seven countries ratified the text, prompting Ms. Arbour to release a statement last Thursday in which she noted that while human rights are universal, “regional systems of promotion and protection can further help strengthen the enjoyment of human rights.”

Ms. Arbour insisted that throughout the development of the Charter, her office shared concerns with the drafters about the incompatibility of some provisions with international norms and standards.

“These concerns included the approach to death penalty for children and the rights of women and non-citizens.”

The global campaign against the death penalty for all people secured a landmark victory last month when the United Nations General Assembly endorsed the call for a worldwide moratorium (suspension) on executions.

The story of the Charter

The Arab Charter on Human Rights (ACHR) was adopted by the Council of the League of Arab States by its resolution 5437 (102nd regular session) on 15 September 1994. The ACHR will enter into force on 15 March 2008, 60 days after ratification by the seventh state, the United Arab Emirates, on 15 January 2008. This followed ratification by Jordan, Bahrain, Algeria, Syria, Palestine and Libya. The revised version was adopted by the 16th Arab Summit, hosted in Tunis in May 2004

In April 2002, the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights officially approached the Arab League Secretary General to form a working group of Arab independent experts working in the UN human rights bodies, with the aim of revising the ACHR in order to be consistent with international human rights standards. The experts included members of the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

It is unclear why the Charter was amended, although NGOs working in Lebanon have suggested the revision may in part be due to anti-terror initiatives and the number of children currently in detention on terror charges.

Further information