Academic journal article Global Governance

NGO-IGO Relations: Amnesty International, Council of Europe, and Abolition of the Death Penalty

Academic journal article Global Governance

NGO-IGO Relations: Amnesty International, Council of Europe, and Abolition of the Death Penalty

Article excerpt

This article draws on the previously unseen archival record to examine Amnesty International's contribution to the abolition of the death penalty in the Council of Europe legal space. The Parliamentary Assembly and the European Court of Human Rights' contributions are widely discussed in scholarly and policy circles alike, but Amnesty International's substantive contribution in the 1970s and in 1989 is less well documented. Political and legal actors in Strasbourg have significant control over the content and timing of international agreements, but in this case Amnesty International was decisive in shifting substantive considerations as to need for regional intervention to prohibit European states from exposing individuals to the death penalty. Of interest to policy students and international relations scholars alike, documenting Amnesty International activity also provides an illustration of nongovernmental actors' contribution to Strasbourg human rights policymaking over time and across a range of political and judicial actors. Keywords: Council of Europe, death penalty, Amnesty International.

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IN THIS ARTICLE, I EXAMINE THE CONTRIBUTION OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS NONGOVERNMENTAL organization Amnesty International (AI) to Council of Europe (CE) efforts to secure the abolition of the death penalty in the constituent member states. The CE was created on 5 May 1949 to provide a framework of shared norms and values to Western European states and societies, and its ideational goals are crystallized in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) of 4 November 1950. The subject of the death penalty has been debated in the CE since 1949, but the key years of change were between 1958 and 2010. While there is ample literature on promotion by the Parliamentary Assembly (hereafter Assembly) of regional legislation to secure domestic abolition of the death penalty, (1) AI's efforts in the CE 1970s abolitionist movement are less well known. Further still, less well documented beyond legal scholarship is that AI's intervention in Soering v. United Kingdom (1989) helped the European Court of Human Rights (hereafter Strasbourg Court) conclude that exposure to the death penalty is contrary to the ECHR.

Central to my argument in this article is that, while the constituent states have significant control over the content and timing of international agreements, international nongovernmental organization (INGO) agency was decisive in shifting the CE members' decision toward drafting in 1981-1982 a regional treaty to secure domestic peacetime abolition of the death penalty. AI agency was also decisive in 1989 in persuading the Strasbourg Court to consider the death penalty as contrary to ECHR Article 3, which protects the individual against exposure to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In either case, AI's calls for appropriate regional legal developments drew on normative changes that were already taking place in the member states. The death penalty had fallen into disuse in CE member states, and to promulgate European legislation to secure its domestic abolition was merely to transpose national developments to the regional level. Taking the long view shows that the significance of these AI interventions was not confined to shaping debate on the death penalty only in the 1970s and in 1989. The Strasbourg Court declared in judgment in its most recent significant death penalty case--Al-Saadoon and Mufdhi v. United Kingdom (2010)--that the individual now possesses the "right not to be subjected to the death penalty." (2) This is a far cry from the ECHR Article 2(1) provision of the state's right to the death penalty alongside the individual's right to life.

In examining how AI led other actors in Strasbourg's efforts to prohibit the member states from exposing individuals to the death penalty, this article is also seminal in demonstrating--albeit tangentially--the CE's utility as a policy venue within which the constituent members, the organization's institutions, and INGOs can, together, further mutual ideational goals. …

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