Today, on the European and World Day against the Death Penalty, the European Union reaffirms its strong commitment to promoting the right to life as a fundamental right of every human being and to supporting the worldwide trend towards the abolition of the death penalty. Today more than two thirds of all countries (141) have abolished the capital punishment in either law or practice. Abolition of the death penalty is a distinctive achievement in Europe. Its absolute ban under all circumstances is inscribed in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and all 28 EU Member States have enshrined a de jure moratorium in their national legislations. The European Union also urges all European States to ratify the protocols to the European Convention on Human Rights, which aim at the abolition of the death penalty.
The death penalty indeed is incompatible with human dignity. It implies inhuman and degrading treatments, does not have any proven significant deterrent effect, and allows judicial errors to become irreversible and fatal. No legal system is perfect. Maintaining the death penalty makes the execution of innocent people inevitable. This is an unacceptable risk. Death penalty creates more pain, for the families of the people sentenced to death, and in particular their children, but also for the families of the victims who are increasingly rejecting death penalty worldwide because it does not honour their late relatives and can violate their ethnical and religious beliefs. The world is moving away from the death penalty today because some alternatives to the death penalty – rehabilitation at first – have proven more effective.
Moreover, the death penalty often first hurts poor and vulnerable people disproportionately. The theme of this year’s Day against the Death Penalty looks at its inextricable link to poverty. Social and economic inequalities affect access to justice for those who are sentenced to death for several reasons: defendants may lack resources to defend themselves and will in some cases face discrimination because of their social status. Worldwide, the individuals sentenced to the capital punishment are often migrant workers and disadvantaged people, often victims of illegal trafficking activities who benefit little if at all from the crimes they are accused of.
In Laos, a de facto moratorium on the death penalty has been applied for more than 25 years – which means that if the death penalty is still retained in the Lao legislation, no executions have been carried out since then. The recent revision of the Penal Code has triggered lively discussions at the National Assembly among people’s representatives. The death penalty is often perceived as a preventive and deterring measure to prevent relapse and address severe crimes, including drug trafficking. As intended by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the number of crimes punishable by the death penalty should be reduced to a minimum so as to meet the international definition of the most serious crimes. Narcotic-related crimes, in particular, do not meet the threshold of "most serious crimes". Overall, studies have shown that the threat of punishment is not a decisive factor for people who engage in drug crimes.
The EU has been giving considerable importance to the violation of the minimum standards defined by international law around the world. In Laos, the EU supports the reforms undertaken under the revised Penal code that aim at meeting those standards - including the extension of the moratorium’s scope to juvenile offenders, pregnant women, elderly and persons with intellectual disabilities and the reduction of the number of crimes calling for death sentences – and encourages the consideration of an increasing number of abolitionist voices within the National Assembly.
The EU today invites to celebrate on the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that everyone without any distinction has the right to life. The message to abolish the death penalty is as important today as ever. Where capital punishment remains in force, there are serious violations of international norms and standards. Where capital punishment remains in words, maintaining a lively debate and considering all voices is essential.
Signed by: The EU Delegation to Lao PDR and the Embassies of France, Germany, Luxemburg and the United Kingdom.
For more information on the death penalty worldwide - www.worldcoalition.org