UN panel passed resolution against death penalty

Despite strong oppositions by United States, China and Iran, United Nations General Assembly panel on Thursday passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on death penalty. China holds the highest record of executions and Iran executes the highest percentage of its population. Nearly 2/3 of the 1,600 known executions in the world in 2006 took place in China, with Iran, United States, Pakistan and Sudan collectively accounting for the rest.

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) — A UN General Assembly panel on Thursday passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on executions with the ultimate goal of abolishing the practice despite fierce opposition from several members.

The vote, capping an acrimonious, two-day debate on the highly divisive issue, was 99 in favor, 52 against and 33 abstentions.

The United States and China joined many developing countries, notably from the Islamic world, in voting no.

The full 192-member General Assembly was widely expected to endorse the decision, possibly next month, according to diplomats. France’s UN Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert said the vote on the Italian-drafted text “marks a real turning point in the global realization of the need to abolish the death penalty.” “I hope that the General Assembly will confirm this vote in its plenary session,” he added.

“The strong vote in favor of this resolution is further evidence that the center ground on this debate has shifted towards the end of the use of the death penalty worldwide,” Britain’s UN Ambassador John Sawers chimed in.

But opponents decried what they saw as a bid by the 87 co-sponsors to impose their values on the rest of the world and made it clear that there was no consensus on an issue which they said would further polarize the assembly.

They argued that the death penalty was fundamentally a “criminal justice issue” to be decided by national authorities and saw the resolution as blatant interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states.

Malaysia, Singapore, Iran, Egypt, Barbados and the Bahamas were particularly vocal in their denunciation of the co-sponsors.

Singapore’s UN envoy Vanu Menon said ahead of the vote the co-sponsors were trying “to impose a particular set of beliefs on everyone else,” and described them as “sanctimonious, hypocritical and intolerant” for having rejected a “genuine dialogue” with opponents.

“This house is divided,” said Iran’s delegate Mahmoud Jooyabad. “There is no international consensus on the death penalty.” Opponents were particularly incensed that more than a dozen amendments they had proposed were all rejected, including one by Egypt backed by a number of Islamic countries and the United States that sought to insert a paragraph also upholding the right to protect life at all its stages, meaning the right of the unborn child.

Barbados even accused some of the co-sponsors of having threatened to cut off aid to developing countries opposing the moratorium.

China’s delegate said the divisive debate had increased tension among member states. “China cannot accept that co-sponsors of the resolution applied pressure on other countries,” the delegate said. “We do not wish to see discussions of this kind happen again.” “It is important to recognize that international law does not prohibit capital punishment,” US delegate Robert Hagen said after the vote.

Washington urges countries apply the death penalty “in conformity with their international human rights obligations and to ensure it is not applied in an extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary manner,” he added

The non-binding resolution states that the death penalty “undermines human dignity” and calls on all states which still maintain the death penalty “to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.”

It also urges them “to restrict its use and reduce the number of offenses for which the death penalty may be imposed” and to respect international standards that provide safeguards guaranteeing the protection of those facing execution.

It decides that member states would continue consideration of the issue at the General Assembly’s 63rd session beginning next September.

Amnesty International hailed what it called an “historic and major step toward the abolition of the death penalty worldwide.” “Establishing a moratorium on executions is an important tool to convince states still using the death penalty to engage in a nationwide debate and to review their laws on capital punishment,” said Irene Khan, Amnesty’s secretary general. According to Amnesty International, 133 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice, while 64 countries and territories retain and use capital punishment, although the number of countries which actually execute prisoners in any one year is much smaller.

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