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Death Penalty: Poverty and the Right to Legal Representation

  • United Nations Headquarters ECOSOC Chamber 405 E 42nd Street New York, New York 10017 (map)

UNGA73 High-level side event


Keynote Speech:

  • Ms. Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Welcoming remarks:

  • H.E. Enzo Moavero Milanesi, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Italy

  • H.E. Aloysio Nunes Ferreira Filho, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Brazil

  • H.E. Dionísio Babo Soares, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Timor-Leste

  • H.E. Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, France

  • High-level representative from Burkina Faso (tbc)


  • Mr. Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights

  • MaryAnn Njau, Chairperson of the Kenya Task Force on Death Penalty

  • Mr. Kumi Naidoo, SG Amnesty International

  • Ndume Olatushani, Former prisoner released from death row


  • Mr. Andrew Gilmour, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights


Delegations wishing to take the floor are requested to contact the Mission of Italy (;, specifying the level of the speaker.

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The practice of the death penalty around the world provides an emblematic example of how the imbalances in the application of the rule of law and lack of fair and proportionate sentencing in the administration of justice impact the poor. The marginalization of the poor from the protections of justice has serious consequences for the implementation of the SDGs.

People in poverty face many obstacles when approaching the criminal justice system. Their lack of financial resources often undermines the extent and quality of legal advice that they receive. This precarious situation exposes them to fatal disadvantages in criminal trials, which may lead to the death sentence.

Against this background, and within the context of the UN’s long-standing support for the abolition of the death penalty, OHCHR, Italy, Brazil, Burkina Faso (tbc), France, and Timor-Leste will hold a side event during the High-Level opening segment of the 73rd Session of the General Assembly to discuss the links between poverty, access to justice and the death penalty.

Within the context of its efforts to promote respect for international human rights and the rule of law, since 2007, the General Assembly has adopted a series of resolutions calling on States to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty. The most recent General Assembly resolution 71/187, adopted on 19 December 2016 welcomed progress towards abolition globally, encouraged moratoria and called upon all States to respect international standards that provide safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty, in particular, the minimum standards, as set out in the annex to Economic and Social Council resolution 1984/50 of 25 May 1984. The General Assembly will continue consideration of the issue at its 73rd session.

Despite these growing calls for a moratorium on executions, the death penalty continues to be applied in many Member States, disproportionately impacting the poorest or the most economically vulnerable individuals. Poverty, discrimination and social and economic inequalities affect access to justice for those who are facing possible execution. Defendants will in some cases be discriminated against because of their social or other status.

In 2017, on the World Day Against the Death Penalty, a group of United Nations human rights experts called for urgent action to end this imbalanced use of the death penalty on people from poorer communities.
The marginalization of the poor in the administration of justice, as demonstrated by the application of the death penalty, has disastrous consequences for the development and implementation of the SDGs.


  • Share the experience of the States and individuals on the death penalty, poverty and the right to legal representation

  • Build support, including in the context of implementation of the SDGs, to overcome human rights concerns in the continued use of the death penalty and in the context of poverty

  • Identify good practices to support Member States in promoting the rule of law and equal access to justice for all, as stipulated in the SDG Target 16.3

  • Share expert analysis on protecting human rights in the context of the death penalty and poverty

  • Encourage States to take appropriate actions to ensure that poor people are legally represented in criminal justice and promote their fair and proportionate sentencing.