Friday, 16 November 2007

Death Penalty Moratorium Backed by Majority at UN

By Bill Varner

Nov. 15 (Bloomberg) -- A majority of governments in the United Nations General Assembly voted today to support a global moratorium on the death penalty, over the objections of the U.S., China, Iran and Sudan.

The non-binding resolution, adopted by a vote of 99 members in favor, 52 against and 33 abstaining, asks all governments in the world body to "establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.'' The measure says the death penalty "undermines human dignity'' and that there is no conclusive evidence of its deterrent value.

"It is important to recognize that international law does not prohibit capital punishment,'' U.S. envoy Robert Hagen said after the vote. The U.S. urges countries that use the death penalty to "do so in conformity with their international human rights obligations and to ensure it is not applied in an extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary manner,'' Hagen said.

The vote came amid a growing debate on the death penalty in the U.S., where 1,099 executions have taken place since 1977. The Supreme Court has brought a virtual halt to executions by lethal injection, by far the most widely used method in the U.S., while considering whether it violates constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment.

New Jersey Bill

New Jersey may become the first state to enact legislation banning the death penalty when the state's Assembly votes on a bill next month. The death penalty is sanctioned by 37 of 50 U.S. states; 13 don't use it.

Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, France, Germany, Israel, Italy and Spain were among the nations that voted for the resolution.

"A United Nations resolution against the death penalty will prove that human beings today are better than they were yesterday, also in moral terms,'' Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi told the General Assembly on Sept. 25 as world leaders met in New York. "If genuine politics means showing foresight, we shall perform a great political act through adoption of this resolution.''

The vote was a "historic resolution and major step towards the abolition of the death penalty worldwide,'' London-based Amnesty International said in an e-mailed statement. "Although the resolution is not legally binding on states, it carries considerable moral and political weight, as it was adopted by the UN's principal organ in which all UN members participate.''

Two previous attempts at the UN to urge the abolition of the death penalty failed to win a majority in the 192-member General Assembly. The resolution adopted today gained wider support because it called only for a suspension.

China, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan are among nations that have carried out executions since 2000.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bill Varner at the United Nations at

Last Updated: November 15, 2007 17:42 EST

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