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RIGHTS: Italy Leads Campaign Against Death Penalty

Sabina Zaccaro

ROME, Jan 10 2007 (IPS) - The Italian government is leading a new campaign against the death penalty following the execution of Saddam Hussein.

The centre-left coalition that came to power April last year has faced fragmentation within and strong criticism from the opposition, but all parties are backing the decision “to campaign at the United Nations for a global ban on the death penalty” announced by Prime Minister Romano Prodi.

“No crime can justify one person killing another,” Prodi said. “This is a principle which all civilisations and religions share.”

Foreign minister Massimo d’Alema had earlier spoken of the new Italian move following a meeting with Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

D’Alema said Italy has been unsuccessful so far in lobbying for the United Nations to call for a moratorium on the death penalty. “But I believe that this must constitute one of the top commitments of our international efforts because it is urgent to have an initiative to put an end to the barbarianism of the death penalty.”

Italy joined the United Nations Security Council Jan. 1 for a two-year term, and plans to use its position to plan a set of activities towards making the death penalty illegal in all countries.

Italy has already called upon the General Assembly to re-examine a non-binding declaration against the death penalty. The declaration has been signed by 85 countries.

Human rights groups have welcomed Prodi’s initiative.

Marco Pannella, leader of the leftist Radical Party said he is now confident that “thanks to the personal engagement of the Italian Prime Minister, the international community will agree on a global moratorium on the death penalty in the next weeks.”

Italy’s decision to present a moratorium is “important, and consistent with the Italian tradition and its constitution, as well as with the European commitment,” said President Giorgio Napolitano. He said all European leaders “following the execution of Saddam Hussein reasserted they are against the death penalty. It’s good that Italy represents Europe in its decision, and that all political sides agree. Italy shouldn’t speak for itself alone.”

The task ahead is not easy. Italy presented proposals for a moratorium on the death penalty at the UN General Assembly in 1994 and again in 1995. Last July the Italian parliament approved a motion urging the government to present another moratorium proposal to the UN General Assembly.

The move failed because the government did not obtain approval from all EU members. Some of the oldest EU members do not want to press the issue with influential countries like Saudi Arabia. Poland’s new Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski has said publicly that he wants to re-instate the death penalty as a means to deter spiralling crime.

Belarus, though not an EU member, carried out two executions in 2005 after it had agreed to a moratorium. A stop on the death penalty is in place in Russia, but it has not eliminated death penalty laws, as required for its membership of the Council of Europe.

Human rights experts say that Italy’s renewed determination could nonetheless be crucial.

“Italy must keep up its campaign for a universal moratorium,” Antonio Papisca, director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) chair on human rights, democracy and peace at the University of Padua in the north of Italy told IPS. “It is a clear and strong sign of discontinuity in the current barbaric conduct of the world. The death penalty enriches that already awful cocktail of tortures, killings and war on terrorism.”

Prof. Papisca pointed out that the second protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of the United Nations adopted in 1989 calls for abolition of the death penalty. “It is optional, but it is true that 57 countries have ratified it.”

Italy’s campaign against capital punishment is ultimately a campaign towards respect for rules, he said. “This initiative has the law on its side. Italy must obtain Europe’s full support and then get the 104 countries ratifying the International Criminal Court based in The Hague involved too. All together, they must replace the Bush administration’s vision of the global order with a new one, based on the International Bill of Human Rights.” It is uncertain how far the Italian initiative will go.

“I think that the Italian battle in favour of the moratorium on capital executions doesn’t have to be judged on a realistic basis only,” Antonio Cassese, director of the UN International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur and former president of the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) told IPS.

“This battle pursues, and defends, a highly important objective; it is a struggle motivated by ethic, thus it is necessary. In order to preserve this huge value, the respect of human life, it is essential to be determined but also to be patient with results.”

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