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DEATH PENALTY: TOWARDS A UNIVERSAL MORATORIUM

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ROME, Jan 1 2007 (IPS) - With passage of the United Nations Moratorium on Executions likely in the current General Assembly, we are on the verge of obtaining a major victory for humanity which the Non-violent and Transnational Radical Party and Hands Off Cain have been seeking for fourteen years, writes Elisabetta Zamparutti, curator of the annual report of Hands Off Cain, \’\'The Death Penalty in the World\”, and a leader of the Radical Party. In this article, the author writes that after the execution of Hussein and through the moratorium campaign, Hands Off Cain and the Radical Party have succeeded in making everyone understand, even in the Arab world and beginning with the Cain of our time, the urgency of preventing a widening cycle of violence and war, in Iraq and elsewhere, which would have disastrous consequences. It was non-violent actions that were responsible for convincing the public of the urgency a measure like the UN moratorium and so accelerated the historic process of abolitionism. The startling drama and horror of the death penalty in the world today is to be found largely in the 98 percent of the world\’s 5000 years executions that are carried in totalitarian and repressive countries. It is because of the nameless and forgotten victims of the death penalty in these countries that a universal moratorium is so very important.

Last June ”Hands off Cain” launched the ”Hands Off Saddam” initiative to prevent the execution of the ex-Iraqi dictator. Radical Party founder Marco Pannella revived this effort and aligned it with the general goal of a UN global death penalty moratorium by beginning a hunger strike on December 27. Hands Off Saddam grew out of the Free Iraq campaign introduced in 2003 by Pannella to promote the exile of Saddam Hussein as an alternative to war in Iraq. It was then followed by the First Major World Satyagraha for Peace held by the Transnational Radical Party to create a non-violent alternative to crisis in the Middle East. Satyagraha is the form of non-violent resistance practised by Gandhi.

After the execution of Hussein and through the moratorium campaign, Hands Off Cain and the Radical Party have succeeded in making everyone understand, even in the Arab world and beginning with the Cain of our time, the urgency of preventing a widening cycle of violence and war, in Iraq and elsewhere, which would have incalculably disastrous consequences. Usually a goal that has been sought for twenty years effort is not suddenly reached in a few days. It was non-violent actions that were responsible for convincing the public of the urgency of a measure like the UN moratorium and so accelerated the historic process of abolitionism.

Since 1994, when a resolution for a moratorium was first presented in the General Assembly by Italy and failed by just eight votes, 45 countries have passed from being death penalty supporters to being abolitionists. Since then, the UN Human Rights Commission has made a number of pronouncements in favour of the moratorium, but passage in the General Assembly was consistently blocked by the European Union, which used various arguments regarding the presumed absence of enough votes for passage or the idea that abolition was better than a moratorium.

But voting predictions from Hands Off Cain and verified by the Italian government had been known for some time: the moratorium would pass with between 99 and 106 voting for, 18-25 abstaining, and 61-68 voting against.

London has led the opposition to the moratorium. The reasons are clear: its privileged relationship with the United States and especially its position as head of the Commonwealth, the organisation of its former colonies, many of which still practice capital punishment. It should be said, however, that this is the attitude of those ”more royalist than the king”: for example, of the 50 states that make up the US, 12 are completely abolitionist, while of the 38 with a death penalty statute, 14 have put a hold on executions, whether because of court decisions or because of legislative or political measures (as is the case with New Jersey and Illinois). In addition, public support for the death penalty has reached a historic low in the US since the revelations that over 100 people that had been sentenced to death were subsequently found to be innocent.

The startling drama and horror of the death penalty in the world today, however, is to be found largely in the 98 percent of the world’s 5000 years executions that are carried in totalitarian and repressive countries. It is because of the nameless and forgotten victims of the death penalty in these countries that a universal moratorium is so very important.

On 22 January there was a meeting of the foreign ministers of the European Union to decide how to proceed at the reopening of the General Assembly, after the directors-general of political affairs in Dresden and human rights experts in Brussels had come to an agreement on supporting a moratorium, spurred also by the fact that a declaration against the death penalty presented in December by the Finnish Presidency of the EU was supported by 85 countries, with others later coming on board.

There remains resistance in the EU, however, from certain countries that are not convinced that the resolution can pass. Thus it is important that the initiative not be billed as a European Union project. Abolitionism is no longer just the prerogative or monopoly of the old continent. Indeed there are clear signs from every part of the world of a willingness to abandon the death penalty.

Hands off Cain and the Radical Party are completely committed to all of this. The effort is further aided by the support offered in recent days by 918 people in 41 nations who have joined the hunger strike of Marco Pannella for one or more days, and by 49,772 people in 133 countries or territories who have signed a petition asking the UN Secretary General to impose a moratorium.

Only by strengthening the non-violent initiative front can we win this battle for humanity and civilisation, and for this reason we ask for support via our website, www.radicalparty.org. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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