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Ban urges countries to abolish death penalty, increase transparency surrounding procedure

UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré
UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré
UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Ban urges countries to abolish death penalty, increase transparency surrounding procedure

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today urged United Nations Member States to move towards the abolition of the death penalty, and called on countries where the procedure is still practiced to increase transparency to allow a serious debate on capital punishment.

“The taking of life is too absolute, too irreversible, for one human being to inflict on another, even when backed by legal process,” Mr. Ban said opening the high-level event and panel discussion at UN Headquarters in New York, on “Moving away from the death penalty – Wrongful Convictions.”

“We have a duty to prevent innocent people from paying the ultimate price for miscarriages of justice. The most sensible way is to end the death penalty,” The UN chief said

The high-level event moderated by Ivan Šimonović , Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, is the second in a series of UN panel discussion on how to move away from the death penalty.

Since 2007, the General Assembly has adopted four resolutions calling on States to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty with a view to its abolition. Today about 150 of the UN's 193 Member States have either abolished the death penalty or no longer practice it.

The event was organized by the Office for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and featured a film clip showing of West of Memphis, the critically acclaimed 2012 documentary that follows the events of the so-called “West Memphis Three,” a case in which three teenagers — Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols, and Jason Baldwin — were arrested for the murders of three 8-year old children in 1993.

The three young men were subsequently convicted of murder and remained in prison for more than 18 years, before being released in 2011 with the introduction of new DNA evidence. One of those wrongfully convicted, Mr. Echols, who was sentenced to death, was among the experts on the panel.

“He is one of too many people around the world who have endured the night mare of injustice compounded by the threat of death,” the Secretary-General said of Mr. Echols.

“We have to prevent innocent people from paying the ultimate process for miscarriages of justice: the most sensible way is to end the death penalty.”

“This cause is embraced by an ever-growing coalition – from human rights defenders, civil rights organizations and faith leaders to law enforcement officials, political representatives and families of murder victims,” continued Mr. Ban in his remarks.

The Secretary-General expressed particular concern that the application of the death penalty “is often cloaked in secrecy” as a lack of data on the number of executions or individuals on death row impedes an informed national debate on the issue.

“But it is a debate that must continue until the world is free of this cruel punishment,” he said, adding that the General Assembly call for a global moratorium is a stepping stone in the progression towards worldwide abolition.

Since 2007, Argentina, Burundi, Gabon, Latvia, Togo and Uzbekistan have abolished the death penalty. Over the past year, Benin and Mongolia initiated measures to follow suit.

However, other countries have resumed executions after maintaining a moratorium for many years, and Mr. Ban urged them to reconsider the use of this inhumane practice.