EU under fire at UN death penalty debate
New York, November 15, 2007
A bid to have the UN General Assembly call for a moratorium on the death penalty drew charges that the European Union was trying to impose its values on others in a throwback to colonialism.
Eighty-seven countries, including EU member states as well as more than a dozen Latin American states and eight African countries, jointly introduced a draft resolution calling for a moratorium with a view to abolishing capital punishment.
The representative for Singapore, which has been criticised by human rights groups for implementing a mandatory death penalty for most drug offenses, warned that the move would "poison the atmosphere between us."
"We are about to embark on a divisive, unpleasant and unnecessary fight," Singapore's Kevin Cheok told the General Assembly's human rights committee,
Two similar moves in the 1990s failed in the 192-member assembly, whose resolutions are non-binding but carry moral authority. This time, the text of the resolution stops short of an outright demand for immediate abolition.
Instead, the draft calls for "a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty."
It says the punishment "undermines human dignity," that "there is no conclusive evidence of the death penalty's deterrent value" and "any miscarriage or failure of justice in (its) implementation is irreversible and irreparable”.
Opponents of the move, ranging from Botswana to Barbados, Iran, China and Egypt, said more than 100 countries retain the death penalty on the books and argued it was a criminal justice issue clearly within the bounds of national jurisdiction.
They presented 14 amendments seeking to remove the call for a moratorium and instead affirm the sovereign rights of states to decide their own punishments for the most serious crimes.
The first 10 amendments were rejected by around 80 votes to around 70. But up to 22 countries abstained in various votes and another 20 or so did not vote at all, leaving the outcome of a vote on the final text in doubt.
If the resolution is passed by the committee on Thursday, it is expected to go to the full assembly in mid-December where it would need to be approved by a simple majority.
Singapore said the European Union was imposing its will.
"We have seen this trait before," Cheok added.
"There was a time when our views were dismissed. Most of us here struggled for years against this. So how ironic it is that we're now being told once again that only one view is right and that all other views are wrong."
Botswana's representative, Rhee Hetanang, said the amendments were aimed at protecting "some small countries such as our own" against growing interference in internal affairs.
He expressed concern about "increasing trends in this committee which demonstrate the sense of superiority of some in this house who seem to believe their political, cultural and legal systems are better than those of others."
Several speakers from Caribbean states made similar arguments, adding that such interference could stir resentment and have the unintended effect of strengthening the hand of those in favor of the death penalty in national debates.
Italian ambassador Marcello Spatafora rejected the charges, noting that General Assembly resolutions do not impose any action on states, and that it was a cross-regional effort.
"We don't want to pick a fight," he said, during a testy exchange with the Singaporean representative.
The US has signalled it would oppose the resolution and kept a low profile in the debate.
China, Iran, Iraq, the US, Pakistan and Sudan account for about 90 percent of all executions worldwide.
Among backers of the moratorium are the Philippines, Australia, Brazil, Gabon, Angola, Turkey and Venezuela. Reuters