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U.N. Recommends Worldwide Death Penalty Moratorium

by Matt Clarke

On December 12, 2007, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a non-binding moratorium on the death penalty. The 192 member nations voted 104 to 54 with 29 abstentions. The measure was spearheaded by the 27-member European Union (EU) which requires death penalty abolition as a condition of membership. The EU, eight African nations and over a dozen Latin American states sponsored the resolution. The opposition was led by the United States, China, Iran, Egypt, Singapore, Sudan and a bloc of Caribbean countries.

“Today’s vote represents a bold step by the international community,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said. “This is further evidence of a trend towards ultimately abolishing the death penalty.”

Amnesty International (AI) lists 133 countries as having eliminated capital punishment in law or practice, but resolution opponents said that over 100 countries still have the death penalty on their books. One of the most vocal opponents to the resolution, Barbados, hasn’t executed a prisoner in decades.

“Capital punishment remains legal under international law and Barbados wishes to exercise its sovereign right to use it as a deterrent to the most serious crimes,” said Mohammed Degia, first secretary of Barbados. “Beyond all of this is the simple fact that the question of the death penalty is basically one of criminal justice and upheld within national legal systems.”

“The resolution is not an interference, but we call on each member state of the United Nations to implement the resolution and also to open a debate on the death penalty,” said Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema, calling the moratorium an important opportunity for international debate.

Despite the claim of non-interference, Barbados complained that some countries were attempting to impose their wills on others and that it had been threatened with withdrawal of aid for its opposition.

The Vatican quickly moved to praise the resolution.

“It shows that despite persistence of violence in the world, an awareness of the value of life ... is growing in the human family,” said Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi. “The vote is interpreted as a sign of hope and a step forward on the road to peace.”

Not only nations, but also organizations of people such as the Catholic Community of Sant’Egidio movement, which began in Italy, were involved in the introduction and passage of the resolution. According to Italian anti-capital punishment group Hands Off Cain, 5,628 people were executed worldwide in 2007, an increase over 2005 and 2006.
China was responsible for 5,000. Iran was second with at least 215. The U.S. accounted for 42. On December 12, 2007, New Jersey abolished capital punishment.

“These accomplishments, in New Jersey and at the U.N., provide vital proof that there is worldwide growth of a new moral standard of decency and respect for human rights, even the rights and lives of those who may have committed severe crimes,” according to World Coalition Against the Death Penalty co-founder Mario Marazziti.

Sources: Los Angles Times; Reuters, Catholic News Agency; New York Times; Christian Science Monitor.

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