October 10, 2022

By World Coalition Against the Death Penalty


On this 20th anniversary of the World Day Against the Death Penalty dedicated to the link between torture and the use of the death penalty and in continuation of the 2021 World Day Against the Death Penalty dedicated to women facing capital punishment, sentenced to death, executed, pardoned or charged with a capital crime and found not guilty, the members of the World Coalition and allies of women and LGBTQIA+ individuals sentenced to death take this opportunity to:

  • Draw attention to gender bias in the use of torture in the judicial process leading to the imposition of the death penalty. Women and LGBTQIA+ individuals are particularly at risk to abuse, including physical, sexual, and psychological torture. In addition, women victims of gender-based violence, who are over-represented on death row, are at risk of making false confessions when subjected to coercive investigative methods, especially those carried out by men.
  • Emphasize that violence against women and LGBTQIA+ individuals in detention – including gender and sexual abuse and harassment, inappropriate touching during searches, rape, and sexual coercion – can rise to the level of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention Against Torture (CAT), among others.
  • Accentuate that women and LGBTQIA+ individuals have specific needs, including sexual and reproductive health care, medical and mental health care, harm reduction services for those using drugs, and protection from gender-based violence, among others. These needs are not systematically considered and covered in prisons, which can turn detention into torture.
  • Stress that in many countries, particularly those with the mandatory death penalty, women and LGBTQIA+ individuals may be sentenced to death without considering their experiences of gender-based violence, among their other vulnerability aspects, prior to incarceration.

More broadly, the members of the World Coalition and allies of women and LGBTQIA+ individuals sentenced to death and at risk of being sentenced to death wish to use this 20th anniversary to:

  • Emphasize that, as done by the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions in its 2022 report, the death penalty as currently practiced can be considered as torture.
  • Call attention to the intersectional discrimination and inequalities that women and LGBTQIA+ individuals face, as these can negatively impact the judicial process leading to the death penalty. Pervasive gender biases in criminal legal systems influence: the investigation, through gender bias by law enforcement; the trial, where marginalized women and LGBTQIA+ individuals tend to be denied fair trial; and at the sentencing stage, where mitigating circumstances that might benefit women and LGBTQIA+ individuals sentenced to death are not considered.
  • Recall that, in violation of international human right law and standards, 12 countries continue to criminalize consensual same-sex relations, imposing the death penalty upon conviction.
  • Address the recognition of the intersectional dimension of discrimination. An analysis of the profiles of women sentenced to death reveals that most are from ethnic and racial minorities, are non-literate, and live with intellectual or psychological disabilities, often as a result of the gender-based violence they have suffered. Gender-based discrimination does not operate in isolation but is compounded by other forms of discrimination, including discrimination based on age, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, sex characteristics, economic status, and disability, among others.
  • Make visible the lack of accurate and up-to-date data on the number and status of women and LGBTQIA+ individuals sentenced to death, executed, or whose death sentences have been commuted or pardoned.

We recommend that governments in countries that still retain the death penalty:

  1. Abolish the death penalty for all offences, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics;
  2. Establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty, as called for by the UN General Assembly in its resolutions calling for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty;
  3. Pending full abolition, we call on governments to:
    1. Eliminate the death penalty for offences that do not meet the threshold of  “most serious crimes” under international law and standards including same-sex relationships and drug offences;
    2. Repeal provisions that allow for the mandatory imposition of the death penalty, which does not allow judges to consider the circumstances of the offence for the defendant at sentencing;
    3. Commute the sentences of women sentenced to death for killing close family members who perpetrated gender-based violence against them and for women sentenced to death for drug trafficking and other offenses that do not involve the loss of human life;
    4. Acknowledge the compounding forms of violence and discrimination experienced by girls, women and LGBTQIA+ individuals – including gender-based violence, early and forced marriage;
    5. Review laws, criminal procedures, and judicial practices and implement policies and legislative reforms to protect women and LGBTQIA+ individuals from violence and discrimination;
    6. Ensure that the criminal legal system takes full account of any mitigating factors linked to women’s and LGBTQIA+ individuals’ backgrounds, including evidence of prior abuse as well as psycho-social and intellectual disabilities;
    7. Ensure publicly available disaggregated data on people sentenced to death, their profile, age, gender, the courts that have pronounced the judgements charges and places of detention;
    8. Prevent the disproportionate detention and prosecution of women for “moral and sexual” crimes and of people for their sexual orientation and decriminalize such offenses;
    9. Promote the training of all those involved in the investigation, legal defense, prosecution, trial, adjudication and conviction of crimes involving women on gender-based discrimination and violence, pathways to crime, and gender-sensitive mitigations;
    10. Ensure that all those facing the death penalty have access to free and effective legal representation by counsel with experience representing individuals charged with capital offences and who are trained to recognize and bring forward mitigating factors, including those linked to gender-based discrimination and violence;
    11. Develop and implement programs to prevent gender-based violence and discrimination, and to promote the human rights of women, girls and LGBTQIA individuals+;
    12. Guarantee access to consular assistance for foreign women charged with death-eligible offenses, as required by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations;
    13. In accordance with the Bangkok Rules and the Mandela Rules, adopt gender-sensitive policies regarding the detention of women, ensuring their safety and security before trial, during admission to prison, and while incarcerated.

Signatory organizations:

  1. ACAT Germany
  2. AdvocAid
  3. The Advocates for Human Rights
  4. American Constitution Society
  5. Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN)
  6. Association pour les Droits Humains au Kurdistan d’Iran-Genève (KMMK-G)
  7. Avocats sans frontières France
  8. Capital Punishment Justice Project
  9. Center for Constitutional Rights
  10. Coalition Tunisienne Contre la Peine de mort
  11. Colegio de Abogados y Abogadas de Puerto Rico
  12. Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide
  13. The Death Penalty Project
  14. Droit et Paix
  15. Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort
  16. Federal Association of Vietnamese Refugees in the Federal Republic of Germany
  17. Fédération internationale pour les droits humains (FIDH)
  18. Fédération internationale des ACAT (FIACAT)
  19. Forum Marocain pour la Vérité et la Justice
  20. Gender Violence Clinic – University of Maryland Carey School of Law
  21. German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalt
  22. Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women
  23. Greater Caribbean for Life
  24. Harm Reduction International
  25. Human Rights Activists in Iran
  26. Human Rights and Legal Profession Project Assistant
  27. International Commission of Jurist
  28. Institute for Criminal Justice Reform
  29. Institute for the Rule of Law of the International Association of Lawyers
  30. IraQueer
  31. Italian Federation for Human Rights
  32. Japan Innocence and Death Penalty Information Center
  33. Kenya Human Rights Commission
  34. Lawyers Collective India
  35. Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Masyarakat
  36. Ligue des droits de l’Homme (LDH)
  37. Madrid Bar Association
  39. Mouvement contre le racisme et pour l’amitié entre les peuples (MRAP)
  40. Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA)
  41. Pax Christi Uvira
  42. Penal Reform International
  43. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor
  44. Red para la Abolición de la Pena de Muerte y las Penas Crueles
  45. Resilient Women’s Organization
  46. Planète Réfugiés-Droits de l’Homme
  47. The Rights Practice
  48. Sandigan Kuwait
  49. The Sentencing Project
  50. Society for Human Rights and Development Organisation (SHRDO)
  51. Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (TAEDP)
  52. Terre des Femmes e.V.
  53. The Texas After Violence Project
  54. Union Chrétienne pour le Progrès et la Défense des Droits de l’Homme
  55. The William Gomes Podcast
  56. Witness to Innocence
  57. Women Beyond Walls
  58. The Women and Harm Reduction International
  59. World Coalition Against the Death Penalty