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U.N. Sees Progress in Death Penalty Moratorium

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 30 2014 (IPS) - With the U.N. General Assembly expected to discuss a proposed moratorium on the death penalty later this year, a senior U.N. official said the world body is supportive of the proposal to end this “cruel practice.”

U.N. deputy secretary-general Jan Eliasson said: “We are seeing substantial progress towards the universal abolition of the death penalty.“

This progress, he said, is felt in every region and across all legal systems, traditions and religions.

Eliasson was speaking at an event co-sponsored by the Geneva-based Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the mission of Italy.

“The United Nations system stands with you to put an end to this cruel practice, spare innocent lives and usher in a more humane and just future”, he added.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the newly appointed High Commissioner for Human Rights, introduced a 214 page book titled “Moving Away from the Death Penalty: Arguments,Trends and Perspectives”.

“We can advocate national debates on the death penalty that are not moored in disinformation and fear. We can debunk the myth of deterrence by highlighting research and facts. And we can highlight the very real probability that death sentences will kill innocent people”, he added.

Data on wrongful convictions and documents show how marginalized groups of people are disproportionately targeted, due to discrimination, unequal economic status and poor legal representation.

This understanding lead Bill Richardson, former governor of New Mexico and currently member of the International Death Penalty Commission to change his stance towards the practice.

He told the audience how he moved away from being an active supporter of the death penalty to signing a law to abolish capital punishment and convert it into life sentence.

As more than one panelist noted, reducing the types of crimes or the categories of people that can be charged with death penalty is a first step in the direction of its complete ban.

The U.N. General Assembly first adopted a death penalty moratorium resolution in 2007, which was supported by 104 states. In 2012, and this number grew to 110.

“The death penalty has no place in the 21st century. Together, we can finally end this cruel and inhumane practice everywhere around the world”, said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last July.

OHCHR points out that currently more than 160 U.N. member states have either abolished the death penalty or do not practise it.

The Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who co-hosted the event, recalled the long history of Italy as an abolitionist, dating back to the Renaissance. He said that political leadership is crucial, but it has to go together with civil society initiatives and even religious leadership.

“A society with high standards of respect for human rights is almost always a society with lower rates of crime”, he added, highlighting the wrong assumption that death penalty deters crime.

High-level political leaders from Mongolia, Tunisia and Benin, who have been on the frontline in this battle,
Recounted their personal experiences, showing how they have led their nations to shift away from the death penalty.

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