The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights confirms its strong opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances. It takes pride in its decisive contribution to making the member states of the Council of Europe a de facto death penalty-free zone. It notes with satisfaction that the death penalty is on the decline worldwide, as shown by a 25% decrease in executions and death sentences between 2005 and 2006. More than 90% of known executions in 2006 took place in only six countries: China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan, and the United States of America – an observer state of the Council of Europe.
The small number of countries that still resort to executions on a significant scale is becoming increasingly isolated in the international community. Between 1977 and 2006, the number of abolitionist countries rose from 16 to 89. This number increases to 129 if one includes those countries which have not carried out any executions for the past ten years or more.
A moratorium is an important step as it saves lives at once and has the potential of demonstrating to the public in retentionist countries that an end to state-sponsored killings does not lead to any increase in violent crime. On the contrary, a moratorium on executions can bring about a change of atmosphere in society fostering greater respect for the sanctity of human life, and thus contribute to reversing the trend towards ever-increasing hate and violence.
The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights therefore strongly welcomes the Italian initiative in the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in favour of an immediate and worldwide moratorium on executions and will support the European Union in pushing this initiative forward in such a manner as to guarantee the best possible success within the UN.
“The death penalty is disgusting, particularly if it condemns an innocent. But it remains an injustice even when it falls on someone who is guilty of a crime.”Note
“Now questions over America’s most popular method of execution are prompting some campaigners to ask, hopefully, whether this could be the beginning of the end of capital punishment. […] And if injections are outlawed, then a majority of Americans might prefer life imprisonment without parole rather than returning to the electric chair, firing squad or gas chamber. Indeed, there are opinion polls which suggest that half the electorate already feels that way.”Note
“There is a renewed momentum, or focus, or interest on the question of the abolition of the death penalty. It’s been possibly fuelled by the concerns, or the visibility of the executions in Iraq, which, in a sense, I think mobilised international public attention on the question of the death penalty and I would certainly hope that in the course of this year, we will see renewed efforts, debate, discussions on that issue.”Note
“The Council of Europe’s experience has shown that a moratorium is an excellent way to smoothly move away from executions. When the general population realises that stopping executions in no way leads to an increase in murders or other serious crimes – and it is a well-documented fact that this is definitely not the case, even to the contrary – then there is much less resistance against the final abolition of the death penalty in public opinion.”Note
Ladies, gentlemen, dear friends,
First of all, let me thank you for inviting me to present the Council of Europe’s experience in abolishing the death penalty, via the moratorium.
I am proud to say that our Organisation has succeeded in making the whole of our continent – with the sad exception of Belarus – a death-penalty-free zone. To be more precise: the death penalty is completely abolished in all member states of the Council of Europe (that is, all European countries except Belarus), except the Russian Federation, where a moratorium is in place since Russia’s accession to the Council of Europe in 1996. Total abolition is one of the commitments Russia made prior to accession to the Council of Europe. As rapporteur for the Parliamentary Assembly, I presented a report last year “reminding” Russia of her commitment. The signals received from Moscow after the almost unanimous adoption of this report show that complete abolition should be only a matter of time.
Reintroduction of the death penalty, anywhere in Europe, would be a direct violation of Protocol No. 6 and would create a major political crisis. A few “populist” politicians in Poland mooted this idea last summer, which was dropped very quickly after it became clear what the consequences of such a move would be for their country’s standing in Europe.
The Council of Europe’s experience has shown that a moratorium is an excellent way to smoothly move away from executions. When the general population realises that stopping executions in no way leads to an increase in murders or other serious crimes – and it is a well-documented fact that this is definitely not the case, even to the contrary – then there is much less resistance against the final abolition of the death penalty in public opinion.
This is particularly true when a moratorium is introduced following a widely publicised case of a miscarriage of justice, leading to the condemnation of an innocent man. Many of us are legal practitioners, as I am, and we all know that the judicial process is far from perfect, anywhere in the world. Mistakes do happen, and when the penalty is death, they cannot be corrected ever again, they are utterly irreversible.
Right now, the scandalously blunderous way in which Saddam Hussein and his henchmen were executed in Iraq provides an excellent prompt to demand an end to executions, once and for all. The flagrant violation of human dignity was obvious to all. No need to look at the horrid videos which circulated on the Internet shortly after these botched hangings, which, to be honest, I was unable to face. These executions are a demonstration of the fact that the death penalty does not serve to pacify in any way the victims of crime. No doubt Saddam Hussein is responsible for the violent deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people. But his execution, instead of being perceived as some kind of just satisfaction for his victims, came across as an act of revenge of the winner against the loser of a conflict between competing warlords. Saddam has been given the opportunity to be seen as a martyr for “his side’s” cause, rather than a fairly punished mass-murderer, who should rightly spend the rest of his life in prison. It is the latter outcome that his many victims would have deserved.
I know that even with the best “prompts” to call for an end to executions, this step still requires true leadership from politicians, who have to guide public opinion and not just give in to perceived popular sentiment.
I can assure you that it was also not so easy for the Council of Europe to adopt Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights, which mandates the abolition of the death penalty in peacetime. After all, it is the governments of the member states which dominate the Council’s executive body, the Committee of Ministers, which has to approve all conventions and protocols opened for signature; and the ministers, as a rule, strive to work by consensus, and their decisions are often limited to the lowest common denominator. But the Parliamentary Assembly has, once again, successfully played its role as the Council of Europe’s conscience.
When the European Convention on Human Rights was adopted in 1950, capital punishment was still foreseen in the penal codes of most founding members of the Council of Europe. Executions still took place in France, Greece, Ireland, Turkey and the United Kingdom. Article 2 of the Convention, protecting the right to life, consequently provided for an express exception for the execution of capital punishment.
But in the early 1970s, moves towards abolition were initiated in the Parliamentary Assembly. The first motion in favour of abolition in 1973, supported mostly by Scandinavian parliamentarians, was defeated in 1975. But five years later, in April 1980, the Assembly adopted Resolution 727 appealing to the parliaments of those member states which still maintained the death penalty to abolish it, and asked the Committee of Ministers to draft an additional protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights aimed at the abolition of the death penalty in peacetime.
Meanwhile, after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the dismantling of the USSR at the end of 1991, the new democracies in central and eastern Europe turned towards the Council of Europe and applied for membership. In most of these countries, the death penalty was still widely used, and the functioning of the judiciary, inherited from the communist past, was very problematic.
The Parliamentary Assembly, which had by that time become staunchly abolitionist, after the accession of a number of abolitionist southern European countries and abolition in France in 1981, made use of its powers in the process of admission of new member states in order to ensure abolition in the candidate countries in central and eastern Europe.
Following a report of another Swedish colleague, Hans Göran Franck, Resolution 1044 (1994) laid down the abolition of the death penalty as a condition precedent for the accession of a new member state: an immediate moratorium on executions, to be followed by a commitment to sign Protocol No. 6 within three years.
The method proved to be efficient, albeit sometimes a little bit difficult on countries caught up in a difficult process of democratic transition, with public opinions at times disoriented by the speed of political, legal and economic change. But in fact the results were there: no candidate country walked away from the effort, and in fact or in law, all dropped the death penalty. I already mentioned that Russia is unfortunately running behind schedule as regards definitive abolition, but I can assure you that the Assembly will not stop pushing until this commitment is fulfilled as well.
Enough said by way of introduction. I am looking forward to the discussion we will now begin around this table. Thank you for your attention.
Reporting committee: Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights.
Reference to committee: Follow-up to the current affairs debate, Reference No. 3323 of 16 March 2007.
Draft resolution unanimously adopted by the committee on 8 June 2007.
Members of the committee: Mr Dick Marty (Chairperson), Mr Erik Jurgens, Mr György Frunda, Mrs Herta Däubler-Gmelin (Vice-Chairpersons), Mr Athanasios Alevras, Mr Miguel Arias, Mr Birgir Ármannsson, Mrs Aneliya Atanasova, Mr Abdülkadir Ates¸, Mr Jaume Bartumeu Cassany, Mrs Meritxell Batet, Mrs Soledad Becerril, Mrs Marie-Louise Bemelmans-Videc, Mr Erol Aslan Cebeci, Mrs Pia Christmas-Møller, Mrs Ingr-ıda Circene (alternate: Mr Boriss Cilevicˇs), Mrs Lydie Err, Mr Valeriy Fedorov, Mr Aniello Formisano, Mr Jean-Charles Gardetto, Mr Jószef Gedei, Mr Stef Goris, Mr Valery Grebennikov, Mr Holger Haibach, Mrs Gultakin Hajiyeva, Mrs Karin Hakl, Mr Nick Harvey, Mr Andres Herkel, Mr Serhiy Holovaty, Mr Michel Hunault, Mr Rafael Huseynov, Mrs Fatme Ilyaz, Mr Kastriot Islami, Mr Zˇ eliko Ivanji, Mrs Katerˇina Jacques, Mr Karol Karski, Mr Hans Kaufmann (alternate: Mr Andreas Gross), Mr András Kelemen, Mrs Katerˇina Konecˇná, Mr Nikolay Kovalev (alternate: Mr Yuri Sharandin), Mr Jean-Pierre Kucheida, Mr Eduard Kukan, Mrs Darja Lavtizˇar-Bebler, Mr Andrzej Lepper, Mrs Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, Mr Tony Lloyd, Mr Humfrey Malins, Mr Pietro Marcenaro, Mr Alberto Martins, Mr Andrew McIntosh, Mr Murat Mercan, Mrs Ilinka Mitreva, Mr Philippe Monfils, Mr João Bosco Mota Amaral, Mr Philippe Nachbar, Mrs Nino Nakashidzé, Mr Tomislav Nikolic´, Mrs Carina Ohlsson, Ms Ann Ormonde (alternate: Mr Patrick Breen), Mr Claudio Podeschi, Mr Ivan Popescu, Mrs Maria Postoico, Mrs Marietta de Pourbaix-Lundin, Mr Christos Pourgourides, Mr Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, Mr Valeriy Pysarenko, Mr François Rochebloine, Mr Francesco Saverio Romano, Mr Armen Rustamyan, Mr Kimmo Sasi, Mr Christoph Strässer, Mr Mihai Tudose, Mr Vasile Ioan Da˘nut, Ungureanu, Mr Øyvind Vaksdal,Mr Egidijus Vareikis, Mr Miltiadis Varvitsiotis (alternate: Mrs Elsa Papadimitriou), Mrs Renate Wohlwend, Mr Marco Zacchera, Mr Krysztof Zaremba, Mr Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Mr Miomir Zˇ uzˇul.
NB: The names of the members present at the meeting are printed in bold.
See 22nd Sitting, 26 June 2007 (adoption of the draft resolution, as amended); and Resolution 1560.