Ratification of the ICCPR
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights has been ratified or acceded to by 168 states (May 2015).
Art. 7: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment….”
Art. 10: “(1) All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person….”
Art. 24: “(1) Every child shall have, without any discrimination as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, national or social origin, property or birth, the right to such measures of protection as are required by his status as a minor, on the part of his family, society and the State….”
Art. 26: “All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any grounds such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
General Comments adopted by the Human Rights Committee
In 1992, the Committee adopted General Comment No. 20 on “Article 7 (Prohibition of torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment)”. It states that the text of article 7 “allows of no limitation” and “no justification or extenuating circumstances may be invoked to excuse a violation of article 7 for any reasons” (para. 3). The Committee confirms that the prohibition relates to acts that cause mental suffering as well as those causing physical pain, that it extends to corporal punishment, and that it particularly protects children in teaching and medical institutions (para. 5).
Other relevant General Comments include No. 17 on “Article 24 (Rights of the child)” (1989), which emphasises the child’s right to receive protection without discrimination from his/her family, society and the state (para. 1) and confirms that all rights in the Covenant apply to children (para. 2). No. 18 on “Non-discrimination” (1989) defines discrimination as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference which is based on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, and which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by all persons, on an equal footing, of all rights and freedoms” (para. 7). The Committee explains that non-discrimination may require additional protections for some groups, including children (para. 8). General Comment No. 21 on “Article 10 (Humane treatment of persons deprived of their liberty)” (1992) emphasises the importance of respect for human dignity and physical integrity.
The Committee’s recommendations to states parties
The Committee has long raised the issue of corporal punishment in its examination of states parties’ implementation of the Covenant, moving from an earlier emphasis on corporal punishment in the penal system and schools to recommendations to address it – including through legislative measures – in all settings including the home. As at May 2015, the Committee had made 72 observations/recommendations on corporal punishment to 56 states.
Extracts from the Committee's recommendations to states on corporal punishment of children can be accessed below by state and by session. Recommendations are also included in the individual country reports.
Communications under the ICCPR
Under the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, communications can be made to the Committee claiming that the rights of an individual or group of people, including children, have been violated by the state.
The First Optional Protocol has been ratified by 115 states (May 2015). There have been no communications concerning corporal punishment of children, but the Committee’s position is clear from cases involving judicial corporal punishment of adults. In 2000, considering a complaint from an adult in Jamaica sentenced to be whipped, the Committee stated (15 March 2000, CCPR/C/68/D/759/1997, Views adopted on Communication No. 759/2000, paras.9.1 and 11):
The author has claimed that the use of the tamarind switch constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, and that the imposition of the sentence violated his rights under article 7 of the Covenant. The State party has contested the claim by stating that the domestic legislation governing such corporal punishment is protected from unconstitutionality by section 26 of the Constitution of Jamaica. The Committee points out, however, that the constitutionality of the sentence is not sufficient to secure compliance also with the Covenant. The permissibility of the sentence under domestic law cannot be invoked as justification under the Covenant. Irrespective of the nature of the crime that is to be punished, however brutal it may be, it is the firm opinion of the Committee that corporal punishment constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment contrary to article 7 of the Covenant. The Committee finds that by imposing a sentence of whipping with the tamarind switch, the State party has violated the author’s rights under article 7.
“Under article 2, paragraph 3 (a), of the Covenant, the State party is under an obligation to provide Mr. Osbourne with an effective remedy, and should compensate him for the violation. The State party is also under an obligation to refrain from carrying out the sentence of whipping upon Mr. Osbourne. The State party should ensure that similar violations do not occur in the future by repealing the legislative provisions that allow for corporal punishment.”
In 2001, the Committee considered an application concerning judicial corporal punishment in Trinidad and Tobago, and concluded (8 November 2001, CCPR/C/73/D/928/2000, Views adopted on Communication No. 928/2000, paras. 4.6 and 6):
The Committee notes that the author was sentenced to 12 strokes of the birch and recalls its decision in Osbourne v. Jamaica in which it decided that irrespective of the nature of the crime that is to be punished, however brutal it may be, it is the firm opinion of the Committee that corporal punishment constitutes cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment contrary to article 7 of the Covenant. In the present case, the Committee finds that by imposing a sentence of whipping with the birch, the State party has violated the author’s rights under article 7.
“Pursuant to article 2, paragraph 3 (a), of the Covenant, the author is entitled to an effective remedy entailing compensation and the opportunity to lodge a new appeal, or should this no longer be possible, to due consideration of granting him early release. The State party is under an obligation to ensure that similar violations do not occur in the future. If the corporal punishment imposed on the author has not been executed, the State party is under an obligation not to execute the sentence.”
In 2002, the Committee issued conclusion on another individual application concerning judicial whipping in Jamaica (25 June 2002, CCPR/C/74/D/792/1998, Views adopted on Communication No. 792/1998, paras. 4.6 and 6):
“… Irrespective of the nature of the crime that is to be punished or the permissibility of corporal punishment under domestic law, it is the consistent opinion of the Committee that corporal punishment constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment contrary to article 7 of the Covenant. The Committee finds that the imposition or the execution of a sentence of whipping with the tamarind switch constitutes a violation of the author's rights under article 7.
“Under article 2, paragraph 3 (a), of the Covenant, the State party is under an obligation to provide the author with an effective remedy, including refraining from carrying out the sentence of whipping upon the author or providing appropriate compensation if the sentence has been carried out. The State party should ensure that similar violations do not occur in the future by repealing the legislative provisions that allow for corporal punishment.”
- All of the Committee's recommendations are included in the individual country reports for the state concerned
- List of ratifying states
- Full text of the ICCPR
- The Committee's General Comments
- Compilation of all HRC recommendations on corporal punishment
- Analysis of HRC recommendations and the legality of corporal punishment in each state party
- For information on using communications and inquires procedures to pursue prohibition of corporal punishment of children, email firstname.lastname@example.org