China's Suspended Death Sentence with a Two-Year Reprieve: Humanitarian Reprieve or Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Punishment?
21 Pages Posted: 19 Apr 2017 Last revised: 23 Jun 2017
Date Written: April 18, 2017
In China, a two-year reprieve may be pronounced simultaneously with an imposition of the death sentence if immediate execution is not deemed “necessary.” At the end of this reprieve, the death sentence may be commuted to life imprisonment if the convict has not committed an “intentional crime” during the two-year reprieve, or to a fixed-term imprisonment of 25 years if the convict has performed “great meritorious service.” While the suspended death sentence has been praised for being “humane” by reducing the total number of executions in China, it has also been criticised as being “cruel” and “inhuman” for supposedly placing the convict in a state of suspense and anxiety – for a period of two years – over whether he or she would eventually face execution. In examining the jurisprudence of the Human Rights Committee, the European Court of Human Rights and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council on the “death row phenomenon,” this Article argues that China’s suspended death sentence does not violate the prohibition against cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment under international law. This Article concludes by exploring the potential implications of this issue for other States, especially those which have ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Keywords: death row phenomenon; cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment; China; suspended death sentence, human rights
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