Against Death Penalty
Europe is today the only region in the world where the death penalty is no longer applied. All the Council of Europe's 47 member states have either abolished capital punishment or instituted a moratorium on executions.
The Council of Europe played a leading role in the battle for abolition, believing that the death penalty has no place in democratic societies.
This determination to eradicate the death penalty was reflected in Protocol No.6 to the European Convention on Human Rights. It followed an initiative from the Parliamentary Assembly to abolish the death penalty in peacetime and was adopted in April 1983. In 2002, another important step was taken with the adoption of Protocol No. 13 on the abolition of capital punishment in all circumstances, even for acts committed in time of war.
The Council has made abolition of the death penalty a prerequisite for membership. As a result, no execution has taken place on the territory of the organisation’s member states since 1997.
The Parliamentary Assembly continues to monitor the capital punishment issue. It has extended its action to countries enjoying observer status with the Council. This mainly concerns Japan and the United States. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe decided on 26 September 2007, to declare a ''European Day against the Death Penalty,'' which is held annually on 10 October.
The day is a European contribution to the World Day against the Death Penalty, which is held annually on the same day.
The Council of Europe and the death penalty
Over the past 30 years, the Council of Europe has been working on the prohibition of the death penalty in Europe. Over the past 10 years, none of the death sentence was carried into effect in the 47 member states of the Council of Europe. The death penalty is legally prohibited in most of these countries. But we believe that even today it is important to consolidate this practice in Europe and continue to strive for a ban on the death penalty worldwide.
The rights to life and prohibition of torture, inhuman and degrading human dignity treatment are the basis of the European Convention on Human Rights. This Convention, drawn up by the Council of Europe and adopted in 1950, states fundamental principles, which guarantee respect for human rights in the 47 member states, where more than 800 million Europeans reside. The ban on the death penalty in peacetime is ensured by protocol №6, and all the countries, except one, have signed and ratified it. Protocol № 13 extends this prohibition to all circumstances, including wartime. Today, the protocol awaits ratification by eight countries.
The death penalty raises contradictory views in society, as its use affects some deep instincts, including revenge, human dignity, fear and hatred. The news about particularly cruel felony or where the victim is a close person often provokes a strong reaction in people, up to the thirst for revenge and the desire to execute the criminal. Many people still consider the death penalty as an acceptable response to particularly cruel felonies. Also there are countries in the world where the death penalty still exists.
Such a legally-sanctioned murder is as inhumane as the felony, for which the death penalty is provided. Victims of crime need in support and justice, but there are many reasons why the death penalty is incompatible with justice and other values of our society. We should keep Europe as a zone which is free of capital punishment.
The death penalty does not prevent crime
Statistics by countries, which abolished the death penalty, always confirms the lack of connection between punishment and crime rates. Serious study by the UN in 1996, found no evidence that "the execution is a deterrent to a greater extent than life imprisonment." The data obtained from the USA, where the death penalty does not used in all states, show that this punishment does not prevent crime. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the number of crimes and murders in the states with laws on the death penalty is no less than in the states where it does not apply.
The justice system is not immune from mistakes and it commits mistakes. The risk of a fatal error and execution of an innocent man is real - and it happens more often than you might imagine. Since 1976, more than 113 people were released from death row after being acquitted in the United States. Innocent people may be executed not only because of judicial error, but deliberately: the death penalty is a notorious way of getting rid of political opponents in some countries. Such victims are simply sentenced to death after an unfair trial.
Murderers should not become martyrs
In some cultures, the death penalty means a kind of transformation of executed in a martyr. Thus, political or pseudo-religious movements that utilize the armed violence and death, receive justification and support. Despite the need for just punishment of one of the world's most brutal tyrants, the hanging of Saddam Hussein's brought no justice, no truce to Iraq. Moreover, the inhumanity and cruelty of his punishment were the focus of international media.
Human Rights: it concerns everyone
Violation of human rights should not be punishable by violation of the right to life. The ban on the death penalty does not mean manifestation of softness to the crimes - the people who have committed serious crimes should be severely punished, they must realize that their behavior is unacceptable.
It may seem paradoxical that the rapist and murderer are given the right to life, despite the fact that the victims of their crimes so severely injured. Nevertheless, the state-sanctioned killing, (what, in essence, is the death penalty) does not advocate victim’s rights. Murder of a criminal - is another crime that can not fix the past, whatever pain and suffering the victim tested. It can not revive the victim, but merely expands the circle of violence and cruelty.
What can I do to support the abolition of the death penalty?
Unfortunately, the complete abolition of the death penalty has not been completed yet. Many Europeans continue to support the very idea of the death penalty and there is a need to constantly explain why it is failure, why the death penalty has been abolished in many countries and why it should remain prohibited. Your support in this matter is essential. Together we can influence the evolution of policy in this area in countries outside Europe (such as the USA and Japan) to the legislative abolition of the death penalty. We must again and again urge those countries to follow the lead of European and other countries where the society has already said "Yes" to justice, and "No" - to violence, torture and death.
"We should continue to fight for the abolition of the death penalty" (statement by Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights).