(by Patrick Goodenough, CNSNews.com) – Italy’s leader urged United Nations member states to back a resolution declaring a moratorium on the death penalty, saying the worldwide campaign had reached a “decisive moment.”
Prime Minister Romano Prodi told the General Assembly in New York City Tuesday evening that the resolution “will prove that human beings today are better than they were yesterday also in moral terms.”
The resolution Italy is promoting with the European Union’s support calls for a universal moratorium on the death penalty, ahead of eventual total abolition.
In an open letter published in Italian, French and Spanish dailies earlier Tuesday, Prodi acknowledged that the campaign faced challenges. “We know that we cannot harbor illusions. The battle against capital punishment is a difficult one, because many countries still practice it.”
To pass, the resolution will need the backing of two-thirds of the 192 U.N. member states, or 128 votes, and Prodi told the meeting that Italy had been working hard to muster the necessary support.
According to Italy’s mission to the U.N., an earlier Italian-led declaration on the subject was signed by 85 nations last December and another 10 subsequently. It called on countries with the death penalty “to abolish it completely and, in the meantime, to establish a moratorium on executions.”
Amnesty International (AI) says 133 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, while 64 other countries and territories retain it.
In 2006, 25 countries carried out executions, the rights group says. It recorded 1,591 executions last year, of which at least 1,010 took place in China (although AI says the true figure in China could be as high as 8,000).
Elsewhere in 2006, “Iran executed 177 people, Pakistan 82 and Iraq and Sudan each at least 65. There were 53 executions in 12 states in the U.S.A.”
Although any General Assembly resolution will not be legally binding on member states, “it would carry a heavy moral and political weight of united international pressure,” according to AI.
European institutions are at the forefront of the international campaign to outlaw capital punishment, and the 47-nation Council of Europe (CoE) says one of its top priorities is “to make abolition a universally accepted value.”
Having achieved a de-facto moratorium on the death penalty across Europe (Belarus, a non-member, is the sole exception), the CoE says it is working to extend the prohibition to countries that have observer status, primarily the U.S. and Japan.
European politicians and officials frequently characterize an anti-penalty stance as a “European value.”
When Poland’s conservative government this month went against the E.U. consensus on the issue of the death penalty (See related story), left-wing critics in the European Parliament questioned its commitment to “European values.”
A year earlier, when Polish President Lech Kaczynski argued in favor of reinstating capital punishment, E.U. Commission spokesman Stefaan de Rynck reacted by declaring that “the death penalty is not compatible with European values.”
Yet in Europe, as in the U.S., opinion polls have for years reflected significant levels of support for the death penalty.
At an Oct. 2006 press conference in Brussels marking the “world day against the death penalty,” CoE Secretary-General Terry Davis conceded that “many Europeans are still in favor of the death penalty.”
“This is not something we can ignore,” he said. “We need to go out and explain to people why the death penalty is wrong, why it has been abolished and why it should stay abolished.”
In a separate statement the same day, Rene van der Linden, head of the CoE’s parliamentary assembly, referred to member states having “the political will and courage to abolish the death penalty despite the potential unpopularity of the measure.”
Soeren Kern, senior fellow in transatlantic relations at the Strategic Studies Group in Madrid, Spain, says that although support for the death penalty has been declining on both sides of the Atlantic, there is in fact little difference between Americans and Europeans on the matter.
“Despite all the media hype, public opinion polls consistently show that Europeans and Americans hold similar views on the death penalty,” he said Tuesday, adding that “roughly half” of Europeans and “roughly half” of Americans support it.
Kern said there were questions about the basis to Europe’s anti-death penalty stance.
“Many analysts say that European opposition to the death penalty has little to do with morality, and much to do with the desire by European elites to build a European identity that is based on being different from the United States,” he said.
“Because there is no such thing as a pan-European identity — unlike, say, a French identity or a German identity — Europeans, who for centuries have been the primary champions of the death penalty, now say they are purveyors of a superior morality in a contrived effort to be better than the United States,” he said.
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1. Define moratorium.
2. a) Who is Romano Prodi?
b) What is Mr. Prodi working to accomplish at the U.N.?
3. What is Italy, the European Union (EU) and the Council of Europe’s (CoE) ultimate goal for the moratorium on the death penalty?
4. a) How many votes does the resolution need to pass?
b) What authority would the resolution have over U.N. member states if passed?
5. What is the difference between the death penalty in the U.S. compared to countries like China and Iran?
6. a) What do opinion polls about the death penalty indicate about U.S. and European citizens’ view of the death penalty? (found in paragraphs 16-21)
b) What does this information lead you to conclude?
7. Who is Soeren Kern?
b) Why does Mr. Kern believe that European countries are so strongly opposing the death penalty?
8. Mr. Prodi says that if passed, the resolution “will prove that human beings today are better than they were yesterday also in moral terms.” Do you agree? Explain your answer.
9. Whether you support the death penalty or not, should U.S. sovereignty be overridden by U.N. demands (if their attempts to ultimately ban the death penalty were ever realized)? Explain your answer.
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