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Thursday, November 18, 1999 Published at 02:46 GMT


Death penalty ban axed

Death sentence: The lethal injection chamber in Manila, The Philippines

Plans to stop the use of the death penalty across the world have been withdrawn at the last moment.

The United Nations had been due to debate the plan on Thursday but internal divisions scuppered the proposal.

The BBC's Malcolm Brabant reports from Florida's Death Row
Anti-death penalty campaigners have reacted angrily and have promised to step up their protests for a worldwide ban on capital punishment.

The European Union's human rights commissioner, Emma Bonino, said: "I would like the international community to try to reach the point with the death penalty that has happened with slavery and torture."

Amendments blamed

Sponsors of the draft resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty decided against putting the measure to a UN vote because they could not garner enough support.

Although more than 70 countries backed the proposal, about the same number wanted to make amendments that would have diluted the resolution.

The 15 countries of the European Union had led the campaign to phase out executions.

The Finnish ambassador to the UN, Marjatta Rasi, said the draft was not being pursued because the suggested amendments would have wrecked the main resolution.

One amendment would have inserted a paragraph in the resolution recalling that the UN Charter specifically rules out interference in matters essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.

A representative of one of the draft resolution sponsors said that amendment would have set a potentially damaging precedent for future human rights resolutions.

Another amendment would have reaffirmed that every state has an "inalienable right to choose its political, economic, social and cultural systems," without interference in any form by another state.

Phased ban

But the moratorium sponsors, by deciding not to press ahead with the draft at the current UN Assembly session, have left open the possibility of introducing it on a later occasion.

The resolution would have called on all states that still employ the death penalty to progressively restrict the number of offences for which it might be imposed.

Those countries would have been required to "establish a moratorium on executions, with a view to completely abolishing the death penalty".

The resolution's sponsors included the 15 EU members to Argentina, Australia, Turkmenistan and Uruguay.

The sponsors of proposed amendments stressing non-interference in countries' internal affairs were drawn particularly from the Middle East, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.

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