Written statement on a Moratorium of Capital Executions.

Title: Moratorium of Capital Executions

The Transnational Radical Party is an abolitionist organization that, to address the issue of the capital executions, in 1993 created an international league of citizens and parliamentarians for the abolition of the death penalty worldwide called Hands Off Cain. Very often abolitionists are told to “remember the victims”. Stressing the importance of Cain does not mean not considering Abel. The debate is not only who Cain is, what he was like, and what he did – these things are known. “Hands Off Cain” means imposing justice with compassion. Justice with mercy does not absolve Cain; furthermore, it condemns him in a harsher way, which may be unacceptable to him. Being against the death penalty means remembering the victims more justly and more completely.

The International Community shares the abolitionist approach. In the early 1990s, it was the UN Security Council, which eliminated the death penalty from the International Tribunals established to judge crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. The UN Plenipotentiary Conference that in 1998 approved the Statute of the International Criminal Court eliminated the death penalty even for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

The death penalty situation around the world has changed drastically and positively over the last decated. In 1993, countries retaining the death penalty were 98, 43 more than today.

There are currently 140 UN member states that to different extents have decided to renounce the death penalty. Of these: 89 are totally abolitionist; 10 are abolitionist for ordinary crimes; 1 (Russia) is committed to abolishing the death penalty as a member of the Council of Europe and currently observing a moratorium on executions; 5 have a moratorium on executions in place and 37 are de facto abolitionist (i.e. no executions have taken place in those countries for at least ten years).

The countries that retain the death penalty total 54 and not all of them put it to regular practice.

But of the more than 5000 executions per year, 98% are carried out in countries such as China, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The TRP believes that the definitive solution to the death penalty problem is to be found in these countries, and more than the death penalty itself, concerns democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

It is true that the affirmation of democracy does not, in itself, signify abolition, as the United States exemplifies. It is equally true that only in a democratic system can abolition be conceived of and stand the test of time. Dictators can decree abolition overnight, and equally swiftly re-establish the death penalty.

The TRP believes that the abolition of the death penalty cannot be imposed by decree nor can it be a lesson in civility that the ‘civilised’ abolitionists impart on the ‘executioners who must be civilised’. A universal moratorium of executions could be a meeting point between abolitionists and retentionists. It could allow retentionist states to take a step towards abolition, and the abolitionists to help spare the lives of thousands of people. History has shown that after some years of moratorium it is difficult for a State to resume executions and the move often paves the way for complete abolition. This is what took place, for examples, in many states of the former Soviet Union through thanks to the policy of the Council of Europe.

This is the reason why the TRP believes that the main goal for those concerned by the issue of the death penalty should be the establishment of a universal moratorium on executions with a view to completely abolishing the death penalty, and that such a worldwide suspension should be promoted through a resolution to be approved by the UN General Assembly.

In 1994 a resolution for a moratorium was presented for the first time at the United Nations General Assembly by the Italian government. It was defeated only by eight votes. Since 1997, through Italy’s initiative, and since 1999 through the European Union’s endeavour, the UN Commission on Human Rights has approved a resolution stating that “abolition of the death penalty contributes to the enhancement of human dignity and to the progressive development of human rights” and called for a moratorium on executions with a view to completely abolishing the death penalty, every year. We hope that the Council will continue in the same direction.

A moratorium approved by the General Assembly cannot be imposed on any UN member state. But such a resolution would send a clear political message and would set a new moral and legal standard for years to come. It would be a humanitarian guideline for many countries that could face the difficult decision of abolishing or maintaining the death penalty or stopping an execution.