US in Bed with Dictators UN Committee Votes for Wordwide Death Penalty Moratorium

A UN resolution cleared by the controversial Human Rights Committee to ban the death penalty could soon go up for a vote in the General Assembly. But a roster of countries that include China, Iran, Syria and the US are opposing it.

Criminals sentenced to death during an open trial in December 2006 in Zhuzhou, China. The country was one of 52 to vote against the resolution to abolish the death penalty.

Criminals sentenced to death during an open trial in December 2006 in Zhuzhou, China. The country was one of 52 to vote against the resolution to abolish the death penalty.

It isn't the first time that a majority of the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations has voted against capital punishment, but each time brings renewed promise to opponents of the practice. On Thursday, after two days of heated debate, the committee passed a draft resolution calling for a worldwide end to the death penalty. The question remains as to whether the resolution will earn the approval of a majority of the UN's General Assembly.

Ninety-nine of the committee's member states voted in favor of the resolution, 52 against. Strange bedfellows were made as the United States sided with countries like Syria and Iran in the pro-death penalty camp. Thirty three countries abstained.

The resolution expressed "deep concern" about the death penalty, contended that it violates human dignity and challenged the notion that capital punishment has a preventative impact on crime. It calls on countries practicing capital punishment to "establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty."

The countries opposed to the resolution, led by Singapore, maintain that it is morally righteous and impinges on national sovereignty.

More than a dozen amendments were proposed and rejected during the discussions, which took place at the UN headquarters in New York. One of these was the right to life of unborn children, which was introduced by the American delegation and echoes the abortion debate going on in the 2008 presidential election campaign. It found little traction among committee members.

Marcello Spatafora, Italy's ambassador to the UN and one of the sponsors of the resolution for a moratorium on capital punishment, said, "I strongly hope that, in approving this resolution, we will be starting a process in which we will all ... (be) walking together along the same path."

The draft resolution was co-sponsored by European Union states and 60 other countries. It must now be voted on by the entire 192-member General Assembly, which has rejected similar initiatives twice before, in 1994 and 1999. The first was defeated by eight votes, and the second was withdrawn at the last minute. If the General Assembly votes in favor this time, the resolution would be legally nonbinding, but would carry moral weight.

Robert Hagan, the US representative in the committee stated after the vote, "The United States recognizes that the supporters of this resolution have principled positions on the issue of the death penalty. But nonetheless it is important to recognize that international law does not prohibit capital punishment." The US Supreme Court is scheduled to debate the constitutionality of lethal injections next year.

Human rights groups celebrated the draft resolution, which Amnesty International called "a clear recognition of the growing international trend toward worldwide abolition of the death penalty." The human rights organization reports that more than 90 percent of all executions last year took place in China, Iran, Iraq, Sudan and the US. The total number of recorded executions, however, has dropped from 2,148 in 2005 to 1,591 in 2006. One hundred and thirty countries have abolished capital punishment, including the 27-member European Union, which has become a major forcebehind its abolition.



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