Growing U.N. Support for Death Penalty Moratorium a Sign of "Unstoppable" Movement towards Abolition

Press Release
November 21, 2012

Growing U.N. Support for Death Penalty Moratorium a Sign of "Unstoppable" Movement towards Abolition

Rights Group urges world leaders to “seize this opportunity and work together to make the moratorium on the use of the death penalty a global reality”

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@aiusa.org, 212-633-4150, @strimel

(New York) – A vote to establish a moratorium on the death penalty at the U.N. General Assembly’s human rights committee has given a further boost to the global goal of ending the use of capital punishment.

On Monday, the General Assembly’s Third Committee, which addresses social, humanitarian, and human rights issues, adopted its fourth draft resolution calling for a moratorium on executions. The call for a moratorium has garnered steadily increasing support since the first resolution was adopted in 2007.

110 states voted in favor, 36 abstained and 39 voted against the resolution in the Third Committee, equal to one more vote in support and two fewer in opposition when compared to the last Assembly vote on a moratorium in 2010. The draft resolution was co-sponsored by 91 U.N. member states from all regions of the world, the highest number yet.

“Today’s vote is yet another clear signal that the world’s journey towards abolition of the death penalty is unstoppable,” said José Luis Díaz, Amnesty International’s representative at U.N. headquarters in New York.

When the United Nations was founded in 1945, only eight of the then 51 U.N. member states had abolished the death penalty. Today, 94 states have abolished the death penalty for all crimes, and overall, 137 out of the 193 U.N. member states have ended the death penalty in law or practice.

New votes in favor included Central African Republic, Niger, Tunisia, and South Sudan. As a further positive sign, Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia moved from opposition to abstention. Most supporting vote changes came from the African region. Regrettably, Oman and Mauritania withdrew support for the resolution, while Maldives and Sri Lanka went from a vote in favor to an abstention.

Five amendments aimed at weakening the text of the resolution were shot down before a vote on the draft resolution as a whole.

“The message from the Third Committee is clear. Decision makers from all around the world should seize this opportunity and work together to make the moratorium on the use of the death penalty a global reality,” added Díaz.

The vote in Third Committee is an important indicator for the main vote on the resolution in the General Assembly Plenary this December, when the resolution is expected to be endorsed. Although not legally binding, U.N. General Assembly resolutions carry considerable moral and political weight worldwide.

Amnesty International urges all U.N. Member States to support the plenary resolution. Those countries still retaining the death penalty should immediately establish a moratorium on executions as a first step towards full abolition.

Background information

The UN General Assembly has adopted two other resolutions on the matter, resolutions 63/168 in 2008 and 65/206 in 2010, both of which met increased cross-regional support. In 2008, 106 States voted in favor, 46 against and 34 abstained, while in 2010, 109 supported the resolution, 41 opposed it and 35 abstained.

Although not legally binding, U.N. General Assembly resolutions carry considerable moral and political weight.

The adoption of these ground-breaking resolutions since 2007 has generated momentum among civil society and international governmental organizations to renew their commitment to the abolition of the death penalty.

Support for the U.N. call for a moratorium on executions has been widely shown through statements, declarations and resolutions that have been issued since December 2007.

Among others, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights adopted a similar resolution in 2008, calling on African States to observe a moratorium on the execution of death sentences with a view to abolishing the death penalty.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in a report on the death penalty in the Americas released in August 2012, also recommended that States in that region “impose a moratorium as a step towards the gradual disappearance of this penalty.”

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has likewise called for a moratorium in those of its participating States that have not yet established one.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty, which violates the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The organization opposes capital punishment in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution. It violates the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Amnesty has been campaigning to support the U.N.’s calls for a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.