Tuesday, 18 December 2007

UN Assembly calls for death penalty ban

Bangkok Post Breaking News

Tuesday 18th December.

"New York (dpa) - The UN General Assembly on Tuesday voted 104-54 to adopt a moratorium on the death penalty, defeating vocal opposition from countries that maintain the practice does not violate human rights.

Countries that favour ending the death penalty are a uniformed bloc, arguing the practice "undermines human dignity" and that a moratorium "contributes to the enhancement and progressive development of human rights."

"There is no conclusive evidence of the death penalty's deterrence value and that any miscarriage or failure of justice in the death penalty's implementation is irreversible and irreparable," the proponents said in the resolution adopted by the 192-nation assembly. There were 29 abstentions.

The resolution submitted by more than 90 countries, including most Europeans nations, voiced concern about the continued use of the death penalty and demanded that the UN "establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty."

It called on countries that still apply the death penalty to respect international standards that provide safeguards guaranteeing the rights of sentenced prisoners and to "progressively restrict the use of the death penalty and reduce the number of offences for which it may be imposed."

Countries that opposed the moratorium renewed their criticism before the vote, a replay of the debate last month in the human rights committee of the assembly. Opponents included the block of 13 Caribbean nations and others like Singapore, which accused Europeans of imposing their values on other sovereign nations.

There are 134 countries that have abolished the death penalty.

But countries that continue to use it, like the United States and China, have remained mostly silent during the whole debate.

Despite Washington's official stance on maintaining the death penalty, New Jersey on Monday became the first US state to abolish the sentence in more than 40 years, as Governor Jon Corzine signed into law a measure eliminating it.

New Jersey joined 13 other US states that do not allow executions.

"Today New Jersey evolves," Corzine, a Democrat, said in a statement. "This is a day of progress for us and for the millions of people across our nation and around the globe who reject the death penalty as a moral or practical response to the grievous, even heinous, crime of murder."

Before the final vote in the UN General Assembly Tuesday, the human rights committee voted 99-52, with 33 abstentions, last month to approve the moratorium, and sent the draft to the 192-nation assembly for a final vote.

The issue split the committee into two camps, with the Europeans, led by Italy, on one side against mostly small countries in the Caribbean, Africa and the Middle East that said the death penalty is not a human rights issue."

Jon Corzine Signs Abolition Into Law

On Monday 17th December, Jon Corzine, Governor of New Jersey signed into law the bill approved by the state's Assembly and Senate last week. Although New Jersey re-adopted the death penalty in 1982, following its reinstatement by the Supreme Court in 1976, New Jersey has not executed anyone since 1963.

"The measure spares eight men on the state's death row. On Sunday, Corzine signed orders commuting the sentences of those eight to life in prison without parole.

Among the eight spared is Jesse Timmendequas, a sex offender who murdered 7-year-old Megan Kanka in 1994. The case inspired Megan's Law, which requires law enforcement agencies to notify the public about convicted sex offenders living in their communities."

New York Times

New York Times editorial, Saturday December 15th. "A Long Time Coming."

"It took 31 years, but the moral bankruptcy, social imbalance, legal impracticality and ultimate futility of the death penalty has finally penetrated the consciences of lawmakers in one of the 37 states that arrogates to itself the right to execute human beings."

This is the opening paragraph in what I think is an excellent editorial. The author reports on a couple of recent cases where convictions have been overturned. One of the best reasons for ending the death penalty; it's not easy to apologise to the dead!

"New Jersey’s decision to replace the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole seems all the wiser coming in the middle of a month that has already seen the convictions of two people formerly on death row in other states repudiated. In one case, the defendant was found not guilty following a new trial."

The United States of America is the most powerful of the western civilised nations, but in keeping the death penalty on its statutes, who is it keeping company with?

"By clinging to the death penalty, states keep themselves in the company of countries like Iran, North Korea and China — a disreputable pantheon of human mistreatment. Small wonder the gyrations of New Jersey’s Legislature have been watched intently by human rights activists around the world."

So, lawmakers of Texas, the state which has executed more people than any other since reinstatement of capital punishment, take note. The time has come to consider what place executions have in a civilised world.

"In a sense, the practical impact of New Jersey’s action may be largely symbolic. Although there are eight people on New Jersey’s death row, the moratorium was in place, and the state has not put anyone to death since 1963. Nevertheless, it took political courage for lawmakers to join with Governor Corzine. Their renunciation of the death penalty could prick the conscience of elected officials in other states and inspire them to muster the courage to revisit their own laws on capital punishment.

At least that is our fervent hope."

New York Times Editorial