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Friday, November 16, 2007

The UN, the Death Penalty, & the Right to Life

The United Nations has thankfully passed a resolution calling for a global moratorium on the death penalty. It is not binding, but it does carry great moral weight in human rights and legal deliberations throughout the UN member states.

A Reuters wire service report discloses an interesting twist to this good news: Rights of unborn raised at U.N. death penalty debate. Apparently representatives of various Two Thirds World nations tried to add an amendment to the resolution urging member states "to take all necessary measures to protect the lives of unborn children."

The Reuters report describes this an attempt to "derail" the moratorium against the death penalty from presumably pro-death Muslim penalty nations. It names and notes that the US supported the amendment, which was proposed by "Iran, Egypt, Syria, Zimbabwe and several Gulf countries. The measure was rejected by an 83-28 vote with 47 abstentions."

I have not been able to find online a breakdown of the vote online, nor any more substantial details about the amendment and debate except from a source I tend to be quite skeptical about, the anti-contraception, Catholic-conservative group C-FAM.

Their "Friday Fax" for November 16, 2007 notes that "Egypt, Bahrain, Iran, Libya, Kuwait, Mauritania and Sudan sponsored the right to life amendment" and "the Philippines, San Marino, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Gabon, Honduras, Haiti, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador and Panama stated that they agreed with the substance of the amendments, but as co-sponsors to the death penalty resolution they still did not agree that the amendments were germane to the draft text. Most countries agreed that the right to life issue as presented in the amendments deserved more time for deliberation and consideration and several delegations called for a separate right to life resolution to be brought up at next year’s General Assembly."

Unless and until I can find actual direct coverage of the debates, I have to wonder what was really going on. However, if the Reuters and C-FAM accounts are accurate....judging from Amnesty International's list of [Death Penalty] Abolitionist and Retentionist Countries, the countries named as supporting or sympathizing with the amendment would not all have reason to derail the moratorium for purposes of continuing to inflict the death penalty themselves.

--Abolitionist for All Crimes: Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras, Panama, Philippines, San Marino

--Abolitionist for ordinary crimes only (Countries whose laws provide for the death penalty only for exceptional crimes such as crimes under military law or crimes committed in exceptional circumstances): Chile

--Abolitionist in practice (Countries which retain the death penalty for ordinary crimes such as murder but can be considered abolitionist in practice in that they have not executed anyone during the past 10 years and are believed to have a policy or established practice of not carrying out executions. The list also includes countries which have made an international commitment not to use the death penalty): Gabon, Mauritania

--Retentionist: Bahrain, Egypt, Guatemala, Iran, Libya, Kuwait, Sudan, Syria, USA, Zimbabwe

Whatever was really going on this amendment debate, I am glad the moratorium resolution passed. I am glad it was not derailed by people who do not grasp the contradiction of defending unborn life while taking already-born life. And that there was some room to discuss the interconnected rights to life of unborn humans and prisoner humans at such a high level in the UN, with the possibility of more considered and constructive debate in the future. I think the most constructive strategy here is to take these issues one at a time, with a consciousness that they have something to do with one another.

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