Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has hailed the growing momentum against capital punishment, while voicing concern that a small number of States continue to impose the death penalty, often in violation of international standards.
In a message to the Fifth World Congress against the Death Penalty, held in Madrid, Mr. Ban noted that the full abolition of the death penalty has support in every region and across legal systems, traditions, customs and religious backgrounds.
Currently, more than 150 States have either abolished the death penalty or do not practice it. Last year, 174 United Nations Member States were “execution-free,” he said.
“Despite these positive trends, I am deeply concerned that a small number of States continue to impose the death penalty, and thousands of individuals are executed each year, often in violation of international standards,” said the Secretary-General.
“Some countries with a longstanding de facto moratorium have recently resumed executions,” he noted. Also, the death penalty is at times used for offences that do not meet the threshold of “most serious crimes,” such as drug crimes, and a few States impose capital punishment against juvenile offenders, in violation of international human rights law.
Mr. Ban also pointed out that information concerning the application of the death penalty is often cloaked in secrecy, and that the lack of data on the number of executions or the number of individuals on death row “seriously impedes” any informed national debate that may lead to abolition.
“The taking of life is too absolute and irreversible for one human being to inflict on another, even when backed by a legal process. Too often, multiple layers of judicial oversight still fail to reverse wrongful death penalty convictions for years and even decades,” he said.
This problem, he added, will be discussed at a UN panel in New York at the end of this month.
The UN General Assembly first voted on a moratorium in 2007, and again in December 2012, when it adopted a resolution calling for a progressive restriction on the use of capital punishment and eliminating it entirely for felons below the age of 18 and pregnant women.
Although not legally binding, the UN moratorium on executions carries moral and political weight.