November 12, 2010 / 6:35 PM / 10 years ago

Support grows at U.N. for death penalty halt, U.S. opposed

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 11 (Reuters Legal) - A U.N. General Assembly committee issued a resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty on Thursday, while the United States joined China, Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and others in opposing the measure.

A vote on the issue took place in the Assembly’s Third Committee, a body composed of all 192 U.N. member states that addresses human rights and humanitarian issues. 107 countries supported the nonbinding resolution while 38 other countries opposed it and another 36 abstained. The General Assembly is expected to formally adopt the resolution this December.

“Support for the moratorium has gained ground and the effort was from across the board regionally,” said Jose Luis Diaz, who is Amnesty International’s representative to the U.N.

Diaz, whose organisation campaigns in favour of the moratorium, said that five countries have changed their position to support the measure since a similar vote took place in 2007. He also noted that a handful of other countries, including Afghanistan and Thailand, chose to abstain rather than vote no as they did last time.

Other opponents to the measure who include Egypt, Singapore and Myanmar typically invoke state sovereignty to defend their position, according to Diaz.

“They point to the laws on their books. To hear them tell it, this is a criminal justice matter, an internal matter that is not a human rights issue.”

Singapore introduced one of three amendments to the draft resolution before the vote, aimed at softening the language. The amendment proposed adding that the General Assembly “reaffirms the sovereign right of all countries to develop their own legal systems.”

The U.S. delegation voted in favour of the Singaporean amendment, which failed to win sufficient support to be included in the final version.

An Egyptian delegate told the assembly the United Nations should focus on “due process rather than abolition,” sentiments echoed by the U.S. delegate.

The European Union was the driving force behind the resolution, although there were African, Asian and Latin American states that signed on as co-sponsors. Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, East Timor, Rwanda, Mozambique and Russia were among the resolution’s sponsors and also voted for it.

The U.N. resolution is titled “Moratorium on the use of the death penalty” and is referenced as document A/C.3/65/L.23/Rev.1.

Reporting by Louis Charbonneau of Reuters; Additional reporting by Jeff Roberts of Reuters Legal

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