On 10 October the world commemorates the World Day against the Death Penalty. This day was introduced in 2003 by the Worldwide Coalition against the death penalty, a group of nations and organizations including Canada, France, Italy, Mexico, Belgium, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the European Union. Over time, it has become an established part of the international calendar, commemorated annually with hundreds of events around the world.
Through the initiative, the Coalition sought to raise awareness of its existence; influence public opinion and governmental authorities; increase pressure on the States that implement the death penalty to end executions and abolish the practice; and promote and enlarge the Coalition’s international diversity and representativeness.
The Coalition’s position is rooted in the United Nations’ rejection of the death penalty as enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Even before the ICCPR was drafted in the early 1960s, the UN had already begun moves to abolish the practice in international law. Today, approximately 160 of the 193 Member States of the United Nations have abolished the death penalty or introduced a moratorium, either in law or in practice.
International support for the view that abolishing the death penalty contributes to the enhancement of human dignity and the progressive development of human rights is reflected in successive UN General Assembly resolutions calling for a moratorium on the death penalty. When a resolution on this issue was first presented by the European Union (EU) and eight Member States in 2007, it attracted 104 votes in support and 54 against the call to suspend the practice. In December 2014 the same resolution was supported by a record 117 countries with just 37 voting against it.
All 28 members of the European Union firmly oppose the use of the death penalty in all cases and under all circumstances. This principled opposition applies even to those convicted of crimes such as murder. The stance against the death penalty is also at the heart of the EU’s Human Rights policy in its relations to other States. As well as co-sponsoring the UN General Assembly resolution, the EU also regularly raises abolition of this form of punishment in political and human rights dialogues with countries where the death penalty is still legal.
The former European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission, Catherine Ashton, declared to the European Parliament on 16 June 2010 that she would take as a ‘personal priority’ the EU’s work on abolishing the death penalty worldwide.
Ashton’s successor, Federica Mogherini, has re-echoed the position in a statement she issued along with the Secretary General of the Council of Europe to commemorate this year’s European and World Day against the Death Penalty. In the statement, Mogherini highlighted that no execution has taken place in EU Member States in the past 18 years.
Liberia is one of the countries that have put a moratorium on the death penalty, with the last execution having taken place in 2000. It has signed the Second Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, under which countries commit to a moratorium and to amend laws to eliminate the death penalty altogether. During Liberia’s Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council in May 2015, countries from around the world urged Liberia to take steps to abolish the death penalty completely and it is clear this will remain a live issue for the development of human rights in Liberia as in other countries which have not yet taken this step.
Tiina Intelmann is European Union Ambassador to Liberia.