UN:  Two UN human rights experts have hailed the Supreme Court’s ruling commuting the death sentences of 15 prisoners as a “significant step” and asked India to establish a moratorium on executions.

“This judgement by the Supreme Court reaffirms the value of human rights and respect for human life, as enshrined in the Indian Constitution,” said Christof Heyns, UN Special  Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

Heyns said if the death penalty should be used at all, international law requires that it must follow a trial that meets the highest standards of fairness.

“I am pleased to see that the Supreme Court referred to international standards and confirmed that persons suffering from mental illness could not be executed,” Heyns said.

In a landmark verdict providing relief to many death row convicts, the Supreme Court had on January 21 ruled that death sentence can be commuted to life imprisonment on the ground of delay by the government in deciding mercy pleas.

While giving life term to 15 death row convicts, the apex court also commuted the death sentences of two men on the ground that they suffer from mental illness.

Juan E Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, also welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision.

But he stressed that Indian courts must continue to ensure that capital punishment does not violate the absolute prohibition on torture or ill-treatment.

Heyns and Mendez, who had previously raised the case of several of the individuals concerned with India, said the apex court’s decision was a “significant step” but they urged India to go further and “establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty”.

The statement by the two experts was endorsed by Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Mads Andenas.

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