WASHINGTON– LAWFUEL – The Legal Newswire –The European Commission today proposed to establish an annual European Day against the death penalty on October 10. The joint declaration establishing the day is to be signed by the European Parliament, the EU Presidency, the European Commission and the Council of Europe in order to support the promotion of universal abolition of the death penalty.
“The death penalty is a violation of the most fundamental of human rights, namely the right to life,” said European Commission Vice President Franco Frattini. “Nothing justifies the death penalty, whether it is considered effective in combating crime or not. Such practice is ethically unacceptable, cruel, legally wrong and can all too often lead to innocent people being killed where no redress is possible. There are a growing number of countries abolishing the death penalty. I felt great emotion at Monday’s Conference ‘Africa for Life’, for African Justice Ministers, at the ‘Community of Sant’Egidio’ and this has renewed my hope and enthusiasm in pursuing the fight against capital punishment. By creating a European Day against the death penalty we are showing our resolve and commitment to not stop fighting this practice until it is abolished worldwide.”
There has been no instance since 1997 of capital punishment in any part of the geographical area made up by the 47 member countries of the Council of Europe, including the European Union Member States. Moreover, abolition of the death penalty is assumed as a natural condition of membership in either of the two European organizations.
“The continued existence and application of the death penalty in many parts of the world remains a serious concern for us,” said Commissioner for External Relations and Neighborhood Policy, Benita Ferrero-Waldner. “This is why its abolition is a top human rights priority in our relations with third countries and in international fora, like the United Nations. We Europeans are the number one advocate against the death penalty and for its universal abolition. And we will not rest until the death penalty becomes history in every country of the world.”
In the context of the Council of Europe, Protocol 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) unconditionally abolishes the death penalty in peacetime. All 27 European Union Member States have ratified Protocol 6. Protocol 13 to the same Convention prohibits the death penalty in all circumstances. Twenty two Member States have ratified Protocol 13; five Member States (France, Italy, Latvia, Poland and Spain) have signed but not yet ratified it.
Similarly, Article 2(2) of the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights prohibits the death penalty in the following terms: “No one shall be condemned to the death penalty, or executed.”
EU activities around the world to fight death penalty seek to encourage public debate, to strengthen public opposition and to put pressure on retentionist countries to abolish the death penalty. The political commitment of the EU has been matched by substantial financial support for concrete projects under the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) in which abolition of the death penalty has been identified as one of the priorities. More than 11 million euros have been allocated to support civil society projects since 1994 aimed at raising public awareness in retentionist countries through public education, outreach to influence public opinion, studies on how states’ death penalty systems comply with international minimum standards, informing and supporting strategies for replacing the death penalty and efforts for securing the access of death row inmates to appropriate levels of legal support and training for lawyers.
Over half the countries in the world have now abolished the death penalty in law or practice:
89 countries and territories have abolished the death penalty for all crimes;
10 countries have abolished the death penalty for all but exceptional crimes such as wartime crimes;
30 countries can be considered abolitionist in practice. They retain the death penalty in law but have not carried out any executions for the past 10 years or more and are believed to have a policy or established practice of not carrying out executions.
This makes a total of 129 countries which have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.
However, figures of death penalty application around the world still remind worrying. During 2006, at least 1,591 people were executed in 25 countries and at least 3,861 people were sentenced to death in 55 countries. The EU’s action, as the worldwide leader on the fight against death penalty, remains urgent and necessary.
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