Sweden and Amnesty International raise death penalty issue in New York


on 7 October 2009

The Swedish presidency of the European Union and Amnesty International organised a public side-event to the United Nations’ General Assembly on September 25 at the International Peace Institute in New York.
Sweden introduced the meeting as an opportunity to reflect on various ways of debating the death penalty issue across the world, as the General Assembly will be asked to vote on a resolution establishing a global moratorium on the death penalty in 2010 after similar votes in 2008 and 2007.
Gunilla Carlsson, Sweden’s minister for international development cooperation, welcomed panellists from other abolitionist countries, including Rwanda and the Philippines.
Carmen Hertz, director of human rights at the Chilean ministry of foreign affairs, announced that her country would soon repeal the last capital offenses listed in its military code following its ratification of the UN and American protocols on the abolition of the death penalty in 2008. She called on more states to ratify the UN protocol, in line with the World Coalition’s campaign in favour of that treaty.

UN resolutions: “a trans-regional initiative”

Discussing the previous UN General Assembly resolutions, she said: “The co-sponsors of the resolution came from every region in the world. It wasn’t a ‘European initiative’, as some countries tried in vain to characterise it. It was a trans-regional initiative, setting quite a remarkable example for other initiatives at the United Nations that have followed since.”
Hertz called on all states to disclose information about their use of the death penalty as requested in the resolution. She encouraged renewed UN condemnations of group, public and juvenile offender executions. However, she said that those countries that still support the death penalty should “remain engaged in future negotiations”.
The repeated moratorium votes at the UN’s General Assembly, which has now scheduled a resolution every two years, attracted the opposition of a group of retentionist countries. The Paul Rougeau Committee, a World Coalition member organisation, recently raised concerns that such debates may have “triggered a political and cultural conflict”. However, most other World Coalition members found that the retentionist movement had failed to maintain momentum and that the benefits of UN resolutions were higher than the risks they pose.

African outlook

Commissioner Catherine Dupe Atoki, of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, gave the audience a comprehensive outlook of the death penalty situation in Africa. She recalled that the African Commission decided to set up a working group on the death penalty in 2005. As she was speaking in New York, the working group was hosting its first regional conference on the death penalty in Kigali.
She concluded that the African Commission’s next priority would be to ensure that state parties adopt a protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the abolition of the death penalty. She added: “More attention should go to addressing the root causes of crime than to enlarging death row.”
Also addressing the New York event, Elizabeth Zitrin (photo) of Death Penalty Focus in the US, representing the World Coalition, presented the 4th World Congress Against the Death Penalty. The congress will be held in Geneva between February 24-26, 2010.

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