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France Calling For Death To Death Penalty

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 27 2012 (IPS) - At an event at the U.N. on Thursday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius urged all states to abolish capital punishment.

“There are still 20 000 people on death row worldwide,” he said.

Nevertheless great progress has been made during the past 10 years, with countries such as Argentina, Mexico and the Philippines abolishing the death penalty. Now 141 out of the world’s 198 states are abolitionist in law or practice, according to Amnesty International.

Amnesty recorded executions in 21 countries in 2011, compared to 31 countries in 2001.

“But the death penalty remains visible even in a few democratic countries,” said Navanethem Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

She mentioned the U.S. as one of those saddening examples. “Abolishing the death penalty takes political courage,” Pillay continued.

One very particular obstacle when it comes to prohibiting capital punishment, mentioned by both Pillay and Fabius, is the fact that capital punishment is often abolished against public pressure. However a number of studies in various states do show that after an illegalisation public opinion tends to shift into accepting, or even highly accepting, the legislation change.

Leaders in countries which have not yet abolished the death penalty must “explain practical reasons for abolishment” to the public, Pillay said. Among the reasons, she mentioned that innocent people may be sentenced to death, and that research shows that capital punishment do not deter crime more effectively than other punishments.

“There is no right more sacred than the right to life,” Pillay stated. “Every time the state drags a person to the execution site a piece of our human dignity is shattered.”

Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, stressed how a disproportionate number of the persons being executed, both in democratic and in non-democratic societies, come from economically vulnerable groups or ethnic and religious minorities.

“The disfavoured people get executed,” Roth said.

Even worse, some states execute children, persons suffering from mental disabilities, and drug addicts.

Roth said that most countries that still use capital punishment only carry it out in murder cases. But states such as Iran, China and Malaysia execute people for lesser offenses, most commonly drug offenses. Persons being found guilty of drug possession for personal use should rather be sent to rehabilitation than to hanging, Roth remarked.

He also expressed outrage about the use of the death penalty for acts of homosexuality in countries like Uganda and Liberia.

“We must maximise the stigma of ever taking someone’s life,” Roth concluded.

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