One Step closer to a more humane world

A special edition of todays blog from our Head of Campaigns Janet Hague, to mark some fantastic news

Last night the UN voted in favour of a global moratorium on executions, calling on all states that still maintain the death penalty to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.

This is an historic decision which takes us all one step closer to a more humane world.

The resolution isnt legally binding, so theres still some way to go and no reason to stop our campaigning. But the decision carries real moral and political weight, as it was adopted by the UNs principal organ in which all members participate and was co-sponsored by 87 states around the world.

The resolution also urges countries that do have the death penalty to "progressively restrict the use of the death penalty and reduce the number of offences for which it may be imposed". So, for example, Iran could stop executing people for adultery and China abolish the death penalty for tax evasion. To some extent the reduction in use is already happening globally: there was an overall decline in the number of recorded executions in 2006, down to 1,591 from 2,148 executions in 2005.

The death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights - the premeditated and cold-blooded killing of a human being by the state in the name of justice. It violates the right to life and is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

The practical arguments dont stand up: theres no solid evidence that it acts as a deterrent or leads to a reduction in those crimes punishable by death some studies have indicated that it leads to a more violent society.

And perhaps most importantly, the death penalty is irrevocable. Miscarriages of justice do happen and there can be no greater miscarriage than executing an innocent man or woman. There is no reprieve from the grave. The Guardian carried a powerful series of interviews this week with three exonerees men who were sentenced to death but given reprieves. One spent 18 years in prison in Uganda for having murdered a neighbour later found to be alive. Another survived 34 years facing execution in Japan. The third, Ray Krone, became the 100th prisoner on death row to be found innocent and freed in the US he was interviewed on yesterdays PM Programme (you can hear the interview about 45 minutes into the programme).

Last nights decision is a major step towards the abolition of the death penalty worldwide. So far, 133 countries have abolished it in law or practice and only 25 countries actually carried out executions in 2006. One day we might look back to the days when countries killed their citizens in the name of justice and wonder how it was ever tolerated.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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