This month we mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption of a key treaty that aims to bring about the abolition of the death penalty. The treaty - known as the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights - provides States with the means of signaling their commitment to the abolition of the death penalty.
The 72 states which have ratified the Optional Protocol since 15 December 1989 are under an obligation not to execute anybody who has been sentenced to death, to take all necessary steps to definitively abolish the death penalty, and to report on what they have done to this effect. In addition, they must not extradite individuals to a country where they would face the death penalty, nor can they reintroduce it in their own. Ratification of the optional protocol, as well as similar regional instruments in Europe and in the Americas, thus draws a firm line under the use of the death penalty.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all those States that have abolished the death penalty.
I am opposed to the death penalty in all cases. I hold this position for a number of reasons: these include the fundamental nature of the right to life; the unacceptable risk of executing innocent people by mistake; the absence of proof that the death penalty serves as a deterrent; and what is, to my mind, the inappropriately vengeful character of the sentence.
While the death penalty remains legal under international law in limited circumstances, there is, as the Optional Protocol notes, a strong suggestion in international law that the total abolition of the death penalty is desirable.
Ratifying the optional protocol is a key step for states moving towards abolition. In the 20 years since it was adopted, the number of formally abolitionist states has almost tripled, and where there was once a majority of states that wanted to keep the death penalty, they are now in the minority. In all, around 140 states are believed to have now abolished the death penalty either formally, or in practice.
Abolishing the death penalty is a difficult process for many societies, and ratification of the Optional Protocol can often only come about after a period of national debate. Until they reach that point, I urge those States still employing the death penalty to place a formal moratorium on its use, with the aim of ultimately ratifying the Optional Protocol and abolishing the punishment altogether everywhere.