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GREEN LIGHT FOR A UNIVERSAL MORATORIUM ON THE DEATH PENALTY

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ROME, May 23 2007 (IPS) - During the last European Union Council on General Affairs on May 14-15, the Italian government and the German Presidency of the EU received a mandate to present a proposal for a universal moratorium on the death penalty in the UN General Assembly, writes Elisabetta Zamparutti, a leader in the Radical Party who prepared the annual report on the Death Penalty in the World for Hands Off Cain. In this article, Zamparutti writes that the conditions for approval of the proposal in the Assembly have existed for some time but until now the EU has blocked such a move. Thanks to the non-violent campaign of Hands Off Cain and the Radical Party, the preparation of a text of the moratorium resolution now has the green light and the search by the Italian government and the Presidency of the EU for co-sponsors has begun. The latter step is crucial to avoid leaving an initiative of such importance only in the hands of the EU.

This decision is a step forward in the 14-year campaign by Hands Off Cain and the Radical Party to get the General Assembly to approve a universal moratorium on the death penalty. Though the conditions in the Assembly have been right for this to happen, until now the EU has blocked such a move.

On April 16, Marco Pannella, Sergio D’Elia, and other radical militants began a hunger strike in support of the moratorium, which influenced the EU decision to end a long series of delays and strengthened the position of the Italian government in its effort to bring to pass what the Italian parliament has repeatedly and unanimously demanded and an overwhelming majority of the European Parliament has called for: that the UN General Assembly be given the opportunity to approve the proposal for a universal moratorium and so broaden the scope of protection for human dignity.

The resistance of European Countries to concede to others the same rights they won for themselves –in this case freedom from the death penalty– has been hard to overcome.

In 1994 an Italian moratorium proposal was defeated in the General Assembly by just 8 votes ( 21 European governments abstained). In 1999 the EU presented a proposal for a resolution that it withdrew at the last minute. According to Francesco Fulci, at the time Italy’s ambassador to the UN, a message came from Brussels ”to all European ambassadors to completely suspend all initiatives.”

In 2000, the government of Silvio Berlusconi came under attack for not having complied with the mandate to present the moratorium proposal before the General Assembly.

In July 2006, the Italian Chamber of Deputies unanimously demanded that Rome present the moratorium proposal to the General Assembly (which is still in session), but Italy and the EU opted for a declaration –which had no official weight– that was presented to the General Assembly on December 19.

On January 2 of this year the Italian government declared its commitment to make sure that the current General Assembly includes the death penalty moratorium proposal in its Order of the Day. It did so after Marco Pannella, who had begun a thirst strike to protest the execution of Saddam Hussein, broadened his action to a hunger strike against the death penalty after the Iraqi leader’s execution.

However, the Council on General Affairs postponed yet again the presentation of a moratorium proposal and continued to seek support for the declaration, which had already been signed by 92 governments. Meanwhile the initiative to present a moratorium proposal continued to win support, which eventually induced the Council to back it.

The conditions for approval of the proposal have existed for quite some time. According to Hands Off Cain projections, the General Assembly will approve the moratorium by a vote of 104-108 for, 61-68 against, and 16-20 abstaining.

Thanks to the non-violent campaign of Hands Off Cain and the Radical Party, the preparation of a text of the moratorium resolution now has the green light and the search by the Italian government and the Presidency of the EU for co-sponsors has begun. The latter step is crucial to avoid leaving an initiative of such importance only in the hands of the EU.

The next weeks will be crucial to winning approval of the moratorium by the current General Assembly. Therefore, after suspending the hunger strike for 36 hours to celebrate the success of the Italian government in the Council of General Affairs, Marco Pannella, and Sergio D’Elia and their companions decided to resume it to keep the pressure on. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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