Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Europe wins a tough fight

Published: Monday, 19 November, 2007, 02:30 AM Doha Time

By J T Nguyen

NEW YORK: Europe may have scored a victory in the campaign to end the death penalty worldwide, but only after a bruising fight with countries that accused their former colonial masters of imposing “values” on the rest of the world.

The 94 countries, including the members of the European Union, that called for a moratorium on the death penalty said their demand would “contribute to the enhancement and progressive development of human rights” and that the capital punishment has not proven to be a deterrent for crimes.
“Any miscarriage or failure of justice in the death penalty’s implementation is irreversible and irreparable,” they said.

Europe had a reason to call for the moratorium — of the more than 5mn signatures collected worldwide to support an end of the death penalty, close to 4mn were from 45 European nations.
Before it was adopted, the resolution on the moratorium met fierce opposition from countries that still use capital punishment. Some countries went as far as accusing the EU of improperly linking the death penalty with the ideals of human rights.

The fight over the death penalty divided the punishment in the human rights committee of the UN General Assembly, which is composed of all 192 nations. Small countries that fought to maintain the death penalty were most vocal, while big countries like the US and China, which carry out the death penalty, said little.

As their amendments aimed at weakening the moratorium proposal were failing, the pro-death penalty camp turned to the Europeans who were strongly pushing for the adoption of the demand. “The amendments tabled are a defence against the EU’s aggressiveness,” said Singapore’s Ambassador Vanu Gopala Menon, who like his counterparts from Jamaica, Barbados and Egypt said the Europeans were imposing their values on others.

“The EU wants everyone to think the way they do,” Menon said during a heated debate in the third committee of the UN General Assembly which deals with human rights, humanitarian and cultural issues. Menon said the EU was ready to “badger” its opponents.

“When their values shift, our values should also shift,” Menon said. “When their positions change, our position should also change.”
“So how ironic it is that we are being told once again that only one view is right and that our views are wrong,” he said. “This is, as it has always been, about imposing values.”

Jamaica’s delegate Ariel Bowen said “other countries” should not impose their “moral and political perspectives on us, just as we do not seek to impose our moral and political judgments on others when the matter falls clearly within the reserved domain of the state.”

Bowen, Menon and other opponents of the moratorium backed their opposition with legal arguments that the practice is a matter for states to decide according to their laws as punishment against the most serious crimes.

They attacked supporters of the moratorium, accusing them of wrongly using the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights to demand the abolition of the death penalty.
Bowen said the EU “erroneously” used the declaration to support their perspective because the document has affirmed the right to life, which is supported by countries in the world. But she said the declaration does not suggest that the death penalty is inconsistent with the right to life.
The amendments offered by the moratorium’s opponents included an affirmation of the “sovereign right of states to determine the legal measures and penalties which are appropriated in their societies, including the death penalty for the most serious crimes, in accordance with international law.”

The moratorium calls on countries that use the penalty “to establish a moratorium on execution with a view to abolish the death penalty” and called on the 130 countries that have abolished the practice not to reintroduce it. – DPA

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