The fourth World Congress against the Death Penalty got underway in Geneva this morning. Relatives of executed prisoners have joined political campaigners, lawyers and representatives of more than one hundred international organisations to work on a common strategy for the abolition of capital punishment. Spain, as the current holder of the rotating EU Presidency, was represented by Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero:
“Sadly, there are still many parts of the world where the death penalty is in use. We must make every effort to get it abolished across the board. This year, we are going to push the UN to pass a resolution calling for a global moratorium,” said the prime minister.
Many countries have already withdrawn the death penalty from their judicial systems. In 1977, only 16 had done so. Today, that number is 95.
Five countries alone are responsible for 93 percent of the world’s executions. They are China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the US.
With 7,000 death sentences passed last year, China holds the record. Since 2007, the sentence has had to be confirmed by the Supreme Court, and this has led to some signs of change.
This is clear in the US, where the number of executions has tailed off since the 1990s. Thirteen US states have abolished the death penalty but the population remains largely in favour of it.
A new UN resolution will be no more binding than the last one. But its symbolic power will be important for those who campaign tirelessly against capital punishment.