Senior UN Official Calls For Abolition Of Death Penalty

As long as the death penalty exists, there will be a need to advocate against it, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Simonovic, declared Thursday at the launch of a new United Nations publication aimed at raising awareness on the abolition of capital punishment.

Speaking at the Geneva presentation of Moving away from the Death Penalty, Arguments, Trends and Perspectives, released by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Simonovic celebrated what he said was "worldwide accelerating progress" made towards abolition since the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"Back then, 66 years ago, only 14 countries had abolished the death penalty, the majority in South America," Simonovic explained, adding that currently around 160 countries around the world had abolished the death penalty in law or in practice.

Recently, Equatorial Guinea, Pakistan, and the states of Washington, Maryland and Connecticut in the United States, decided to establish a moratorium or suspend executions while last April, El Salvador, Gabon and Poland acceded to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights - an international agreement aimed at abolition. These countries join the more than 160 other Members States who have already either eliminated capital punishment or do not practice it.

Nevertheless, Simonovic noted that some States have resumed executions after decades, while several others reintroduced the capital punishment it for certain offenses.

"In 2013, after many years of slow, but consistent moving away from the death penalty, we have had a 12 percent increase in the number of executions when compared to 2012, and the number of executing states increased by one. Exactly for this reason, we need to continue our advocacy for the universal abolition of the death penalty," he said.

Simonovic added that while some advocated capital punishment as retribution, research appeared to show the exact opposite - victims and their families "do not want revenge but prefer justice without revenge or retribution."

"I hope that 'one day' is not far away from us. Abolition will undoubtedly enhance the rights of all humankind, starting with our most sacred right of all, the right to life," he concluded.

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