NOT UNEXPECTEDLY, in the UN General Assembly's Third Committee, India on Thursday voted against a resolution calling for a global moratorium on executions. The Committee, however, adopted the resolution, which was sponsored by 87 states, with 99 members voting in favour, 52 against and 33 abstaining.
The resolution, which drew support from countries in all regions, is expected to be endorsed by the General Assembly at its plenary session in December.
Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and the Maldives voted with India against the resolution.
Explaining the reasons for voting against the resolution, an Indian delegate said, “It is the sovereign right of the countries to determine their own legal system.” He pointed out that courts in India imposed the death penalty only in the rarest of rare cases in which the crime was so heinous that it shocked the conscience of an entire nation.
He added, ''Further death sentences in India must be confirmed by a superior court and an accused has the right to appeal to a High Court or the Supreme Court as also to file a mercy petition before the Governor of the State concerned or the President of India.''
Amnesty International, which had campaigned globally in support of the resolution, described it as a “major step towards the abolition of the death penalty worldwide". AI Secretary General Irene Khan called upon all countries to establish a moratorium on executions “as soon as the General Assembly endorses the resolution”.
In 1971 and 1977 the General Assembly had adopted resolutions which simply said it was "desirable" for states to abolish the death penalty. This year’s resolution goes further, calling on states that still maintain the death penalty "to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty".
It also urges these states "to respect international standards that provide safeguards guaranteeing the protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty" and "progressively restrict the use of the death penalty and reduce the number of offences for which it may be imposed."
It further requests the UN Secretary-General to report to the General Assembly in 2008 on the implementation of the resolution.
Although the resolution is not legally binding on states, it carries considerable moral and political weight, as it was adopted by the UN's principal organ in which all members of the organization participate.
So far, 133 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Only 25 countries actually carried out executions in 2006. Data gathered by AI showed a decline in the number of executions to 1,591 from 2,148 in the previous year. Of the known executions, 91% were reported from China, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan and the United States.
Human rights defenders oppose the death penalty because it negates the right to life. It is not so much punishment as a form of social revenge, which originated in primitive society.