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Enough with the capital punishment!

pdf mise en ligne :02 10 2007 ( NEA say… n° 40 )

COOPERATION POLICIERE > Lutte contre la criminalité

Poland doesn't surrender and remains firm in its position. EU action against the Death Penalty continues. MEPs called on the Council to present a resolution on the moratorium on the death penalty to the 62rd UN General Assembly, in order to adopt it before the end of the year. In a resolution the House also reiterates its full support for the establishment of a European Day against the death penalty on 10 october, calling on the future Polish govenment to fully support this initiative.

The 19 June 2007 the Commission proposed a draft Joint Declaration to the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, to be adopted together with the Council of Europe, regarding the establishment of a European Day against the Death Penalty, on 10 October of each year.

On the occasion of an International Conference to be held in Lisbon on 9 October 2007, the Joint Declaration would 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.

Despite its cross-party support in Parliament and the EU’ s avowed opposition to capital punishment, the Commission’s proposal to establish a European Day Against Death Penalty was opposed by Poland, which stated on 6 September that Europe should instead promote a day "dedicated to the protection of all human life".

In the proposed declaration, the EU and the Council of Europe "stress the importance of persevering in the pursuit of actions aimed at abolishing the death penalty in the world" and "invite European citizens to support the abolition of the death penalty in the world and thereby contribute to the development of fundamental rights and human dignity".

But Poland objected to the notion that development of fundamental rights and human dignity can take place without being placed in the context of the "right to life". "We think that whenever anybody wants to discuss a problem of death in the context of the law it is also worth discussing euthanasia and abortion in this context", declared a spokesman for the Polish delegation.

EPP-ED Group Chairman Joseph Daul MEP , who oversees Parliament’s largest group (278 MEPs), expressed his support for the Portuguese EU Presidency proposal to have a ‘European Day Against the Death Penalty’ on 10 October, the same day as the World Day Against the Death Penalty, which has been commemorated since 2003.

In Strasbourg on 7 September 2007, René van der Linden, the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), qualified the Polish opposition to a European Day against the Death Penalty as “unacceptable” and condemned the Polish government’s position. "The application of the death penalty constitutes torture and inhuman or degrading punishment within the meaning of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Willingness to institute an immediate moratorium on executions, and to abolish the death penalty, has become a precondition for accession to the Organisation" he said. Mr van der Linden recalled that one year ago, the League of Polish Families had called for reintroduction of the death penalty, a petition openly supported by President Kaczynski at the time. "PACE will continue to closely monitor the situation in Poland", he concluded.

Following the failure of  the Council of  Ministers to reach agreement on the creation of a European day against the death penalty (on 18 September 2007 in Bruxelles the Polish government has blocked a decision of 27 EU Justice Ministers, called to pronounce themselves unanimously on this issue), MEPs and Council representatives in the plenary session of  Tuesday afternoon (25 September 2007) have debated the proposed Council decision on a moratorium on the death penalty. The two keys topics were the status of the resolution to be submitted to the 62nd UN General Assembly on a universal moratorium against the death penalty, and the Polish opposition in the Council to establishing a European Day against the death penalty.

The Council Presidency represented by Secretary of State For European Affairs Manuel LOBO ANTUNES relied that it plans to table a resolution to the UN in early to mid-October. The UN’s Third Committee (social, humanitarian and cultural affairs) could vote on the draft resolution in October of this year, allowing for a vote in the General Assembly in December.

Responding to more insistent questions by Ms Frassoni (Greens/EFA, IT) about which articles required unanimity in Council to set up a European Day against the death penalty, Mr ANTUNES replied that Council had decided that decisions of this nature require unanimity.

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, that it counts 47 members between which Russia, has decided, on Wednesday 26 September 2007, to establish an European Day against Death penalty, that will be kept the 10 October of every year. With this occasion, the Committee of Ministers expressed the hope which the EU joins as soon as possible this initiative. The representatives of the Member States have thus chosen to pass in addition to the reserves of the Polish government. "As it is of use to the Council of Europe, one sought very a long time the consensus", indicated to EUROPE a diplomat. But it was finally necessary to pass by a vote and "46 States members voted for, Poland being gone away", he added.

On 27 September 2007 the European Parliament have adopted nearly the unanimity (504 ballots to favour, 45 against and 14 abstentions) one resolution (FR) (EN) in which it brings its support for the introduction of the day of the 10 October and deplores that the European Council is not unanimous on this subject. It "asks the future Polish government (the citizens being invited to go to the ballot boxes in October to renew the Parliament) to fully support this initiative which translates the fundamental values of the EU". The two key topics were the status of the resolution to be submited to the UN General Assembly on a universal moratorium and the Polish opposition in the Coucil to establishing a European Day against the death penalty. For the Socialists, Martin Schulz cites an interview with Polish President Lech Kaczynki, in wich the latter expressed his support for the death penalty, but noted that "the political climate in Europe did not favour its reintroduction the death penalty" Mr Schulz said. He asked the Coucil Presidency how long it would tolerate in silence the fact that an EU Member State has paralyzed the Coucil on this issue. Monica Frassoni (Greens/EFA, IT) asked why the Coucil that it needed unanimity on the question of the European day against the death penalty: "you could have forced a vote on this issue" she said, calling the failure to take a decision a "missedopportunity".

The death penalty has not been completely abolished from Europe, since Belarus continues to apply it and Russia is only applying a vague moratorium until 2010. In addition, all 27 European Union Member States have ratified Protocol 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), while France, Italy, Latvia, Poland and Spain have not yet ratified others regional and universal Protocol against the death penalty (for example Protocol 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Protocol 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of the UN).

The EU maintains a high level of activity against the death penalty and has different instruments at its disposal. Initiatives at the political level include representations and declarations. In addition, the EU also provides support on a more practical level through project support under the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights. General representations consist in the EU raising the issue of the death penalty in its dialogue with third countries. Such demarches occur particularly when a country's policy on the death penalty is in flux, e.g. where an official or de facto moratorium on the death penalty is likely to be ended, or where the death penalty is to be reintroduced through legislation. Similarly, a demarche or public statement may be made where countries take steps towards abolition of the death penalty. Individual representations are used in specific cases where the European Union becomes aware of individual death penalty sentences which violate minimum standards. These standards provide that capital punishment cannot be imposed on those who were under the age of 18 when committing the crime, pregnant women or new mothers, and persons who are mentally disabled.

The political commitment of the EU is matched by Community funding through the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR). The Communication on the European Union’s role in promoting human rights and democratisation in third countries of 8 May 2001 identified the abolition of the death penalty as one of four thematic priorities for assistance under the EIDHR. The support has targeted, inter alia, raising awareness in retentionist countries through public education, outreach to influence public opinion, studies on how States’ death penalty systems comply with minimum standards, efforts for securing the access of death row inmates to appropriate levels of legal support and training of lawyers.

Since 2001, in accordance with the EU Guidelines on the Death Penalty, the EU has been carrying out demarches, raising the issue of the death penalty in many countries, such as the United States of America – at both state and federal level-, the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon, Malaysia, Japan, Guinea, Sri Lanka, Botswana, China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, India, Nigeria, Senegal, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burkina Faso, Swaziland and Niger, Burma, Kuwait, Philippines, Indonesia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Nigeria, Uganda, Sudan, Qatar, Belize, Barbados and Laos.

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.

Le compte à rebours de l'abolition de la peine de mort est en marche, le 9 octobre à Lisbonne (FR) (EN) a eu lieu la conférence "L'Europe contre la peine de mort". Le journal Le Monde  nous signale que de plus en plus d'Etats américains suspendent les exécutions.


Maria Letizia IANNACCONE
Università degli Studi di Napoli "L’Orientale"


► European Union and United Nations Partnership "Launching the European Day against the Death Penalty"
Draft joint European Union/Council of Europe Declaration establishing a "European Day against the Death Penalty"
► SCADPLUS, Synthèse de la législation "Orientations pour la politique de l'UE à l'égard des pays tiers en ce qui concerne la peine de mort", Conseil Affaires Générales - Luxembourg, 29 juin 1998.