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UN calls for worldwide death penalty moratorium

The UN General Assembly [official website] on Friday approved a draft resolution [press release] urging all nations to establish a moratorium on the death penalty with a view towards abolishing its application worldwide. Spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website], Rupert Colville, briefed media sources [press briefing notes] Friday, asserting that most executions violate "international norms and standards" of due process. Colville stressed that many alleged crimes leading to execution do not meet the "threshold of most serious crimes," execution often occurs after a long period on death row and many nations fail to provide adequate consular services to foreign nationals facing execution. Colville also expressed concern specifically about Asian and Middle Eastern nations reinstating the death penalty after years of moratorium and despite a "overwhelming global trend towards abolishing" the practice. According to Colville, the UN is particularly concerned about "massive" increases in executions in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Iraq, and continued contravention of fair trial standards, including convictions based on forced confession and trial proceedings falling short of international standards. Colville called on "all Governments concerned" to take measures to establish "an official moratorium on all executions" in accordance with General Assembly resolutions. According the UN, the moratorium, although not legally binding, carries moral and political weight [press release], and approximately 150 countries have agreed to it.

Application of the death penalty has remained a controversial issue around the globe, and the UN in particular has fought to abolish it for years. In March, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Christof Heyns urged [JURIST report] the Indonesian government to restrict the use of capital punishment to comply with international human rights obligations. Also in March, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemned the executions of seven people in Saudi Arabia as a violation of international safeguards on the use of the death penalty. The men were executed by firing squad after convictions for theft, looting and armed robbery. In February, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reiterated his call for global support against the use of death penalty [JURIST report], stressing that its application is inconsistent with the most fundamental human right principle: the right to life. A moratorium on the death penalty was first approved [JURIST report] by the UN General Assembly in 2007 and, as of December 2012, has gained the support of 111 countries, with 41 against and 34 neither supporting nor opposing.

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