Date: Fri, 3 Dec 1999 23:21:58 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <>
Subject: RIGHTS: Europeans Lose UN Battle to Abolish Death Penalty
Article: 83674
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Europeans Lose UN Battle to Abolish Death Penalty

By Thalif Deen, InterPress Service, 2 December 1999

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 2 (IPS)—The European Union (EU), bowing to strong opposition from most Third World nations, temporarily has abandoned a proposal calling for a worldwide moratorium on capital punishment and its eventual abolition.

The opposition came mostly from countries who either areb tough on crime or who favour the death penalty for capital crimes.

The EU initiative at the United Nations, co-sponsored by some 74 mostly European and Latin American countries, was formally withdrawn—primarily because of 13 substantive amendments brought by anti-abolitionists.

The amendments—which had the support of some 83 countries - were co-sponsored mostly by African, Asian, Caribbean and Middle Eastern nations, including Singapore, Egypt, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Pakistan, Jamaica, Bahamas, Barbadoes, Niger, Cameroon and Sierra Leone.

If adopted, they would have completely diluted the thrust of the original resolution which sought the “complete” abolition of the death penalty.

“The EU was absolutely arrogant. They were not willing even to discuss this with us,” one Third World diplomat told IPS. “In the end, they had to withdraw to save face.”

The United States, whose State of Texas alone has executed some 195 people since executions were resumed in the country in 1977, found itself on the side of Third World nations opposing the EU proposal.

Singapore, which has some of the world's toughest laws against crime, emerged as the strongest defender of the death penalty.

“We can debate endlessly the merits of the death penalty,” Ambassador Kishore Mahbubani told delegates. “But the key issue here is not the death penalty. The key issue is whether a small group of societies from one continent should be allowed to impose their values on the rest of the world.”

Mahbubani said while the EU could advocate the abolition of the death penalty today, “tomorrow, they could advocate the legalisation of drugs (which already has happened in some European countries).

“The day after tomorrow they could advocate the legislation of prostitution (which also is the case in some European societies). Where and when will it stop?.”

Mahbubani conceded that the West had won the great political and economic debates: the victory of democracy over communism and free-market economies over centrally-planned economies. But the verdict on the great social debate is far from clear, he argued.

Being plagued with problems relating to high crime, personal insecurity, high divorce rates, growing single-parent families and rising drug usage, the West has still not found the right answers to key social questions.

“The unfortunate problem that the developing countries (who make up 85 percent of mankind now) face is that they are being subject to a great export of social and personal values from the developed societies, including values that may not have worked well in the developed societies themselves” Mahbubani asserted.

He also argued that it was unwise to abolish capital punishment because the EU has failed to explain why the issue of the death penalty is a human rights rather than a criminal justice issue.

“We all cherish the right to life. Nobody likes to be killed. But to abolish capital punishment without abolishing murders clearly indicates that the right of killers is defended more than the right to life of innocent victims,” he said.

Speaking on behalf of the EU, Ann-Marie Nyroos of Finland said the abolition of the death penalty would enhance human dignity and would promote the progressive development of human rights.

“In many cases where the death penalty was not yet abolished,” she said, “it was often applied in violation of minimum safeguards as set ou in the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other instruments protecting the rights of those facing the death penalty.”

Archbishop Renato Martino, the Vatican's Permanent Observer here, told delegates that any person whose life was terminated in a gas chamber, by hanging, by lethal injection or by firing squad was still human, however cruel or inhuman his or her actions.

Criminal activity demanded effective punishment, he said, but there was no definitive evidence to support the belief that the death penalty reduced the likelihood of capital crimes being committed.

“At the dawn of the new millennium, humanity should become more humane and less cruel,” he added.

US delegate Michael Southwick said existing international law did not prohibit capital punishment. The Covenant on Civil and Political Rights specifically recognised the right of states that had not yet abolished capital punishment to impose it.

In a democratic society, the criminal justice system, including the punishments prescribed for the most serious crimes, should reflect the will of the people, he said.

In the US, he said, a majority of constituent states had chosen to retain the option of imposing the death penalty for the most serious crimes.

Ali Fahad Faleh Al-Hajri of Qatar said the proposal for the abolition of the death penalty was a violation of the UN charter which says that nothing in the charter shall authorise the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.

Ahmed Aboul Gheit of Egypt said the EU's resolution on capital punishment was not respecting existing cultural differences.

“The EU had the right to choose its legal systems, and enact its legislation in accordance with its value systems. Likewise, the EU needed to respect that right for others.”