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Ethics Reform and Human Rights

There is a clear consensus among international human rights advocates and within the accepted standards of human rights that torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment are unacceptable and that the death penalty should be abolished.   Given that AIA’s Code of Ethics and Professional Practice already recognizes human rights as part of professional practice, ADPSR urges AIA to more fully align the Code with international human rights standards, specifically in the area of killing, torture, and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. AIA is an appropriate actor to engage this topic  as civil society and professional organizations have historically played an essential in supporting human rights, ranging from  Amnesty International advocating for release of political prisoners, to the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan working for implementation of rule of law, to Doctors Without Borders providing services to people in need. Architects can and should take our place in doing what we can to stand up for human rights.

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International Human Rights Standards related to Execution

While the death penalty is controversial in the United States and some other countries, the consensus of the international human rights community is that ending the death penalty is an ultimate goal of human rights policy. Both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights look to the eventual abolition of capital punishment. In 2007 the United Nations General Assembly called on “States that still maintain the death penalty: To establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.”[1] ADPSR believes that the American architectural profession is ready to embrace the highest aspirations of human rights as well, over and above the intransigence of detractors who insist on maintaining revenge as a standard of human behavior. We believe the text of the relevant international standards speaks simply and eloquently for itself:

 

  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 3:

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

 

  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 6:

1. Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life…

2. In countries which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes…

6. Nothing in this article shall be invoked to delay or to prevent the abolition of capital punishment by any State Party to the present Covenant.

 

Note: the ICCPR is considered an international treaty, while the Universal Declaration is considered a statement of common aspirations.

 

International Human Rights Standards Demand an End to Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment

A large number of international standards address the issue of torture and related cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, calling for their complete elimination. Supermax prisons are intended for long-term solitary confinement and so constitute a form of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. As with the issue of executions, the language of international standards speaks for itself:

 

  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 7

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

 

  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 10

1. All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.

3. The penitentiary system shall comprise treatment of prisoners the essential aim of which shall be their reformation and social rehabilitation.

 

Discipline and order shall be maintained with firmness, but with no more restriction than is necessary for safe custody and well-ordered community life.

 

Efforts addressed to the abolition of solitary confinement as a punishment, or to the restriction of its use, should be undertaken and encouraged.

 

The bodies charged with interpreting human rights include the UN Human Rights Committee, which states in its General Comment No. 20 on Article 7 of  the ICCPR (Prohibition of torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) :

The Committee notes that prolonged solitary confinement of the detained or imprisoned person may amount to acts prohibited by article. [2]

The application of these rules specifically to supermax prisons was addressed recently by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, an agent of the Committee Against Torture, who said the following:

72. Solitary confinement, when used for the purpose of punishment, cannot be justified for any reason, precisely because it imposes severe mental pain and suffering beyond any reasonable retribution for criminal behaviour and thus constitutes an act defined in article 1 or article 16 of the Convention against Torture, and a breach of article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This applies as well to situations in which solitary confinement is imposed as a result of a breach of prison discipline, as long as the pain and suffering experienced by the victim reaches the necessary severity.

 

76. The Special Rapporteur asserts that social isolation is contrary to article 10, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that “The penitentiary system shall comprise treatment of prisoners the essential aim of which shall be their reformation and social rehabilitation”…Thus the Special Rapporteur concurs with the position taken by the Committee against Torture in its General Comment No. 20 that prolonged solitary confinement amounts to acts prohibited by article 7 of the Covenant, and consequently to an act as defined in article 1 or article 16 of the Convention. For these reasons, the Special Rapporteur reiterates that, in his view, any imposition of solitary confinement beyond 15 days constitutes torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment….  He calls on the international community to agree to such a standard and to impose an absolute prohibition on solitary confinement. (emphasis added)[3]