Uncategorized | Columnist Service

Opinion

EFFECTS OF DEATH PENALTY MORATORIUM FELT

This column is available for visitors to the IPS website only for reading. Reproduction in print or electronic media is prohibited. Media interested in republishing may contact romacol@ips.org.

ROME, Oct 2 2008 (IPS) - October 10, the International Day Against the Death Penalty, will be an occasion to reaffirm the universal moratorium on executions, approved last December 18 by the General Assembly, and to insure it is complied with, . In this article, Bonino writes that for death penalty states, the resolution has an undeniable moral value and political force. The UN has for the first time established that capital punishment is not confined to the ambit of domestic justice but involves the universal sphere of human rights. In truth, the definitive solution to the problem involves not only the death penalty but also democracy, the rule of law, and respect for political rights and civil liberties. At present, we are requesting that this year\’s resolution include a request that death-penalty countries make available to the UN Secretary General all information relative to their death penalty and executions. We are also demanding a new resolution that creates the position of a UN Secretary General Special Envoy charged with monitoring the situation and working to encourage and reinforce internal processes in death penalty countries such that they adhere to the moratorium on executions.

Immediately after the historic approval of the resolution, sceptics began to denigrate its value and scope, arguing that “it doesn’t change anything” and that “it is not juridically binding on governments”. It is a moot point: obviously the UN cannot use a resolution passed in the General Assembly to require a member state to abolish its death penalty.

However, for death penalty states, the resolution has an undeniable moral value and political force. The UN has for the first time established that capital punishment is not confined to the ambit of domestic justice but involves the universal sphere of human rights. The establishment of this principle has placed the sanction in an entirely new light.

For this reason, the mere announcement of the debate on the initiative in New York last year was enough to provoke numerous positive developments, which were followed by others this year, as shown in the 2008 report of the association “Hands Off Cain” and in the UN Secretary-General’s report recently distributed to the General Assembly.

For example, between last year and the first months of 2008, capital convictions in Chinese courts dropped by 30 percent, thanks also to a January 2007 reform that granted the Supreme Court the exclusive faculty to approve capital sentences.

Earlier this year, Cuba commuted all of its pending death sentences, as did Pakistan, which had one of the most populous death rows in the world. These are developments which, though they may not indicate that the elimination of the death penalty is close at hand, clearly show there is real movement in that direction.

One of the issues under debate in the European Union was the strategy to bring about an abolition of the death penalty. Last year the Italian government had to work hard to convince its European partners that the UN resolution should call for a moratorium and not the abolition of the death penalty. A death penalty moratorium would represent not only a sort of truce in the practice of capital punishment but also a more democratic, liberal, and non-authoritarian means of fighting the practice, the elimination of which would show respect for parliamentary rules and timeframes that would be involved in changing the texts of national constitutions, laws, and legal codes.

The antifundamentalist focus of the campaign for the moratorium was successful and prevented the perception that it was a paternalistic measure imposed by western countries on the rest of the world. This inclusive attitude induced countries that still have the death penalty, like Burundi and Uzbekistan, to vote in favour of the resolution, while others decided to abstain rather than vote against it, like Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, and Vietnam.

As explicitly planned, the resolution figures in the order of the day of the General Assembly, which opened its yearly session on September 23. However, the approval of the new resolution is not a mere formality nor should it lead to new attempts to change the mechanics of the resolution to “strengthen” it to make it “more abolitionist”. To really strengthen the resolution it would be enough for the General Assembly this year and in future years to reiterate its support for the moratorium, which is the route to the eventual elimination of the death penalty.

There is also a step that could politically strengthen the resolution: the elimination of state secrecy around the death penalty. Many death-penalty countries -almost all authoritarian regimes- provide no information regarding executions. This lack of information available to the public is one of the causes of an increase in the number of executions.

In truth, the definitive solution to the problem involves not only the death penalty but also democracy, the rule of law, and respect for political rights and civil liberties. At present, we are requesting that this year’s resolution include a request that death-penalty countries make available to the UN Secretary General all information relative to their death penalty and executions. We are also demanding a new resolution that creates the position of a UN Secretary General Special Envoy charged with monitoring the situation and working to encourage and reinforce internal processes in death penalty countries such that they adhere to the moratorium on executions.(END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
Republish | | Print |

Related Tags