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Promotion by Council of Europe member states of an international moratorium on the death penalty

Resolution 1560 (2007)

Parliamentary Assembly
Assembly debate on 26 June 2007 (22nd Sitting) (see Doc. 11303, report of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, rapporteur: Mr Marcenaro; and Doc. 11321, opinion of the Political Affairs Committee, rapporteur: Mrs Aburto Baselga). Text adopted by the Assembly on 26 June 2007 (22nd Sitting).
1. The Parliamentary Assembly confirms its strong opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances. The death penalty is the ultimate form of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment: it violates the right to life. The Assembly takes pride in its decisive contribution to making the member states of the Council of Europe a de facto death penalty-free zone, and strongly regrets the fact that one European country – Belarus – still carries out executions.
2. The Assembly has also on several occasions taken a strong stand against executions in other parts of the world, and in particular in the Council of Europe observer states which retain the death penalty, namely Japan and the United States of America.
3. 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.
4. It also draws attention to the fact that 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 – a Council of Europe observer state. Based on available public records, which may cause the number of executions to be underestimated in countries lacking free media or an accountable government, China alone accounts for more than two thirds of all executions worldwide. Iran’s execution rate nearly doubled from 2005 to 2006. Iraq also witnessed a dramatic increase in executions in 2006, bringing the number up to 65. Saudi Arabia, among the worst offenders in 2005, saw a decrease in 2006 to 39 executions, but witnessed an upsurge in early 2007 (48 executions through to the end of April).
5. 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 when including those countries which have not carried out any executions for the past ten years or more and which can therefore be considered as abolitionist in practice. The time is now ripe to give new impetus to the campaign in favour of a death penalty-free world.
6. The Assembly therefore strongly welcomes Italian efforts in the United Nations General Assembly in advocating for a moratorium on the death penalty, as well as the support of the European Union for this initiative, and expects it to be proceeded with in such a manner as to guarantee the best possible success within the United Nations.
7. A moratorium on executions is but one step in the right direction, the ultimate goal remaining the complete abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances.
8. In the meantime, a moratorium is an important step as it saves lives immediately 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.
9. Finally, a universal moratorium on the death penalty represents a concrete and highly symbolic political act, which could help change an international climate which is all too often characterised by violent actions which take their victims – by no means exclusively in a context of conflict – from among civilian populations. A universal moratorium on the death penalty would also make a significant contribution to the establishment of a shared and operational body of principles and rules leading towards a more effective rule of law at international level.
10. The Assembly calls on all member and observer states of the Council of Europe to actively support the initiative for the abolition of the death penalty in the UN General Assembly and to make the best use of their influence in order to convince countries that are still on the sidelines to join in. In this context, it warmly welcomes the resolution in the same spirit, adopted by the European Parliament on 26 April 2007, on the initiative for a universal moratorium on the death penalty.
11. At the Luxembourg meeting of 18 June 2007, the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) of the European Union unanimously made a formal commitment to tabling – at the next session of the General Assembly of the United Nations – a resolution calling for a moratorium on executions all over the world.
12. The Assembly recalls that, whilst 60 states have so far ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989 to promote the universal abolition of the death penalty, 10 Council of Europe member and observer states have not yet done so, namely Albania, Armenia, France, Japan (observer), Latvia, Mexico (observer), Poland (signed but not ratified), the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and the United States of America (observer). For countries which have de facto and de jure abolished the death penalty (Albania, Armenia, France, Latvia, Mexico (observer), Poland and Ukraine), or which maintain a moratorium (Russian Federation), the ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR would be a valuable gesture of political support for abolition, and would contribute to further isolating the remaining retentionist countries.
13. The Council of Europe’s own instruments against the death penalty are also still lacking ratifications. In particular, Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights concerning the abolition of the death penalty (ETS No. 114) has still not been ratified by the Russian Federation, despite the commitment to do so undertaken upon its accession to the Council of Europe in 1996. Protocol No. 13 to the Convention concerning the abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances (ETS No. 187), including in time of war or imminent threat of war, has still not been signed by Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation, and has still not been ratified by Armenia, France, Italy, Latvia, Poland and Spain. For the sake of the strong and unified signal to be sent by the Council of Europe as a whole, the Assembly calls on the countries concerned to sign and ratify these instruments without further delay.
14. The Assembly notes in this context that Italy’s Chamber of Deputies approved on 2 May 2007, in a second reading, the constitutional bill containing amendments to Article 27 of the constitution concerning the abolition of the death penalty; the bill is presently before the senate for its second reading and final adoption under the current procedure for constitutional revision. The bill aims to delete from Article 27, paragraph 4, the following words: “unless in the cases provided for by military laws in case of war”, thus eliminating any reference to the death penalty in the Italian Constitution and making it possible to ratify Protocol No. 13 to the Convention.
15. Also, the Assembly reiterates its view, noted in Recommendation 1760 (2006) on the position of the Parliamentary Assembly as regards the Council of Europe member and observer states which have not abolished the death penalty, that the death penalty should be abolished in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and the Transnistrian Moldavan Republic, and that the sentences of all prisoners currently on death row in these territories should be immediately commuted to terms of imprisonment in order to put an end to the cruel and inhuman treatment of those who have been kept on death row for years in a state of uncertainty as to their ultimate fate.
16. The Assembly fully supports the Conference to establish a European Day against the Death Penalty, to be held in Lisbon on 9 October 2007, and expects all member states of the Council of Europe also to show their unstinting support. Given its pioneering work on the abolition of the death penalty in Europe and beyond, the Assembly must play a central role, including through involvement in the drafting of the joint declaration, which its President should co-sign at the inaugural conference. The Assembly will stand ready to contribute to publicity and promotion, including through co-ordination of supporting events in member states’ national parliaments