Allow me to begin by thanking the organizers of this high-level side event to mark the 15th anniversary of the adoption of the first General Assembly resolution on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.
At the time of General Assembly resolution 62/149 of 18 December 2007, which proclaimed the first ever global moratorium on the death penalty, 141 countries had abolished the death penalty in law or in practice while 56 countries and territories retained and practised it. Since then, some 170 States have abolished or introduced a moratorium on the death penalty either in law or in practice, or have suspended executions for more than 10 years.
Abolition is possible, and moratoriums constitute a first effective step towards it. They can be triggered by States commitments under the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council. The UPR has made over 1,270 recommendations to establish moratoriums with a view to abolition. More recently, Liberia, Nauru, the Niger and Samoa accepted such UPR recommendations.
Ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, has also been instrumental in paving the way for the adoption of moratoriums. Since the first GA resolution, 25 States representing different legal systems, traditions, cultures and religious backgrounds have ratified or acceded to the Second Optional Protocol. Armenia and Kazakhstan are the most recent examples.
Country experiences have highlighted the positive impact of some specific factors in setting out the path towards moratoriums and ultimately, full abolition.
Strong political leadership is critical. We have seen it recently in Equatorial Guinea with the adoption of a new penal code abolishing the death penalty as well as in Zambia, where in May, the President pledged to abolish the death penalty and work with parliament towards this end.
Increased transparency, including by providing full, accurate and disaggregated data on the use of the death penalty facilitates public engagement in informed and evidence-based discussions on its impact on human rights, and possible alternatives to capital punishment. Communication and education are also key to address misperceptions, including on its alleged deterrent effect.
Support to abolitionist movements is vital, especially support to civil society organizations and human rights defenders. We have seen it recently in Chad, the Central African Republic and Sierra Leone. A safe and enabling environment that empowers and protects leaders of abolitionist campaigns is key.
Strengthening the involvement of political, religious, cultural and youth leaders at the local level is also necessary to address issues such as cultural beliefs, public engagement and the need for comprehensive reforms. I commend the focus on youth of the upcoming Eighth World Congress against the Death Penalty, to be held in Berlin from 15 to 18 November.
Support from the international community is important to move forward abolitionist initiatives at the national and regional levels. Support for the resolution across geographic regions has increased steadily over the years but we still need to convince more Member States to join the call for a global moratorium1.
Moratoriums should be followed by abolition in law, that is, tangible legal reforms, including amendments of penal codes, criminal procedure codes, military codes and reforms of constitutions to remove capital provisions and explicitly prohibit the death penalty. Moratoriums should be accompanied by broader criminal justice reforms to find alternative dissuasive punishments, assuage fears of rising crime rates and reduce public opposition to abolition. International human rights mechanisms such as the Human Rights Committee and the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights have consistently called on States to commute all death sentences to terms of imprisonment, and to ensure the right to seek pardon.
The abolition of the death penalty is a matter of priority for the Secretary-General and it is at the heart of the work of my Office. With this purpose, our priorities include undertaking strategic advocacy and developing partnerships, and, pending its abolition, to promote moratoriums on executions and increased adherence to international human rights law.
The progress of the global abolitionist movement seems irreversible. However, some countries, abolitionists in law or in practice, are now threatening to return to the death penalty and resume executions.
Events such as this one are important to showcase that the road to abolition is feasible. I am hopeful we can reaffirm, including through today’s discussion, our joint global commitment towards abolition in order to guarantee the right to life.
1The first GA resolution on a moratorium was adopted with 104 votes, 54 against and 29 abstentions. In 2020, 19 additional States voted in favour, 38 against and 24 abstained.