UN Again Calls for Abolition of the Death Penalty

The UN releases a new book on the death penalty, and again calls for worldwide abolition.

“Almost everyone loses” when it comes to the death penalty.

That was the statement UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonovic, made late last month when he released his book, “Death Penalty and the Victims,” at an event in New York. The launch featured a panel discussion on the death penalty, as well as presentations from participants that included an exoneree who was on death row for 18 years, a prison warden, a clinical psychologist working with families of murder victims, and lawyers defending inmates on death row.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was also present, and seized the opportunity to call for
“world leaders, legislators and justice officials to stop executions now, with a view to abolishing the death penalty.” It was his most recent call for worldwide abolition among several he has made in his ten-year tenure.

Simonovic said that from the victims’ perspective, everybody loses because, “If they [victims’ family members] are against the death penalty and the death penalty is imposed on the perpetrator, the cycle of violence is continuing instead of being broken. If they want revenge, just a few can get it, and often only after many years of waiting.”

And for those sentenced to death, Simonovic said they “may be considered victims if the . . . justice system violates their human rights, through wrongful convictions, unequal and discriminatory application of justice, lack of due process, the imposition of the death penalty for crimes that do not meet the ‘most serious crimes’ threshold, or for perpetrators who should be protected from the death penalty, such as minors and pregnant women.”

The UN estimates that 170 countries have abolished the death penalty, either officially or in practice. The five countries that lead the rest of the world in executions are, in order, China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.

Ban vowed to continue to campaign for worldwide abolition, saying, “I remain convinced that there is no place for the death penalty in the twenty-first century . . . . “The right to life is fundamental. Taking a life is too irreversible for one human being to inflict on another. It is the ultimate denial of humanity . . . . When we achieve universal abolition, we will realize a more just, peaceful, and humane world.”

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