“The death penalty has no place in the 21st Century,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon emphatically proclaimed last week at a meeting hosted by the Permanent Mission of Italy and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [OHCHR] at the United Nations Headquarters.
It was not a surprise that this high-level conference, concerning Italy’s continued efforts and longstanding commitment to the full eradication of the death penalty, coincided with the July 1 start of Italy’s 12th presidency of the European Council.
Mr. Ban, who has always been somewhat prudent regarding this matter [perhaps because capital punishment is still legal in South Korea], was for the first time very outspoken and assertive regarding total abolishment of the death penalty at the latest panel discussion. He strongly urged all member states to take the most tangible steps toward abolishment.
Although seemingly stepping on the toes of member state leaders who insist on using this form of punishment, Mr. Ban did not hold back in his plea to countries to increase transparency and allow serious debates on this issue.
Sebastiano Cardi, Italian Ambassador to the UN, expressed that Italy’s arduous campaigning to achieve this goal is and has always been a foreign policy priority, but that the strive for a world without the death penalty should not be the sole effort of a restricted group, but rather a global process.
“Our dedication to the worldwide abolition of the death penalty is rooted in our history. When Italy promoted the resolution of the moratorium to the UN for the first time, that very day marked a pivotal accomplishment because it triggered a global trend,” Mr. Cardi said.
The event, moderated by Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonovic, titled ‘Best Practices and Challenges in Implementing a Moratorium on the Death Penalty’ is the second such that has been held this year so far. “This marks the beginning of an on-going series of UN panel discussions in finding ways on how to move away from the death penalty,” he said.
One of the guest speakers on the panel, Tawakkol Karman from Yemen, is a human rights activist, journalist and the 2011 Nobel Peace prize winner for her work in nonviolent struggle for the safety of women. Ms. Karman who is currently the youngest Nobel Peace Laureate spoke emphatically about her homeland as being a xxxx for capital punishment – and even for the slightest of reasons.
“Many places administer the death penalty as punishment against voting opinions. The Middle East is a theater for all these massacres. My call is to prevent the death penalty,” Ms. Karman said.
So far, the General Assembly has adopted four resolutions calling on States to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty. And each year the United Nations Commission of Human Rights (UNCHR) has been approving a resolution and calling for a moratorium on executions hoping that the death penalty will very soon become a completely abolished act. Although not legally binding, UN General Assembly resolutions carry considerable moral and political weight.
When the resolution was first passed, the idea of it even having been presented was thought a totally impossible endeavor. Now the rules of the game have changed, as strong debates are being held against state legislations.
Most of the Asian continent is strong on the death penalty. Russia and South Korea [Ban Ki-Moon’s homeland] are two examples. Even though capital punishment has not been used in South Korea over the last ten years, roughly 60 people are currently on death row due to an existing moratorium on state-sanctioned executions. And Russia also still holds capital punishment legal, except that due to both an explicit and an implicit moratorium it has now been indefinitely suspended. No executions have been carried out in Russia since 1996, and the act is currently prohibited by the European Council.
After the Italian government first presented a resolution for the moratorium on death penalty at the United Nations General Assembly [UNGA] in 1994, the movement for abolition has grown much larger as more states have abolished the death penalty, more moratoria on executions have been implemented and proposals for abolition in law have multiplied throughout the world.
According to a statement from the UN, as of December 2013 an estimated 160 of the UN’s 193 member states have moved toward implanting a moratorium. Some have either totally abolished the death penalty, while others do not practice it at all.
It took only three years after the moratorium’s first launch, in 1997, until 104 member states voted against this type of punishment, while 54 states voted against and 29 abstained from even entertaining the idea of abolishing the act. The next year’s tally showed an increase of two member states voting for the moratorium – bringing the total to 106. A total of 46 states had voted against and 34 abstained.
Despite many numerous challenges, the numbers have not waned. The numbers in 2010 upped by two, while 41 voted against and 36 held back. Statistics at the end of 2012 showed that the resolution gained even more support. One hundred and eleven member states voted in favor, 41 voted against and 34 abstained.
Mr. Ban emphasized that regardless of the variety of legal systems, traditions, cultures and religious backgrounds, there has been broader margin of support from member states therefore the Assembly will soon take up the resolution again.
“Together, we can finally end this cruel and inhumane practice everywhere around the world,” he added.