By Charlotta Sparre
The 10th of October marks the World Day against the Death Penalty. As a form of punishment, death penalty concerns everyone’s right to life. It is not only cruel, inhuman and degrading, but also irreversible and irreparable. No country and no legal system is immune to the miscarriage of justice. The state, with its particular responsibility as the ultimate guarantor of all persons’ human rights, should not deprive anyone of his or her life.
In 1948, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted, only eight countries in the world abolished the death penalty for all crimes. Today, 140 countries from all regions of the world, or more than two thirds of the world’s countries, have done so in law or in practice. Only 21 countries carried out executions in 2012.There is a worldwide tendency to abolish the death penalty. However, there is still much to be done for a universal abolition.
For many years, the universal abolition of the death penalty has been a priority for Sweden, which believes that the elimination of the death penalty is fundamental to the enhancement of human dignity and to the progressive development of human rights. Sweden, together with the rest of the European Union, encourages governments in all countries that have not yet abolished the death penalty to show political courage to do so.
Today, Sweden enjoys more than one hundred years without executions. And since 1997, there has been no instance of execution in any part of the geographical area made up by the 28 European Union member states. Europe is the only region in the world today where the death penalty is no longer applied. Abolition of the death penalty is also a condition which states are required to meet in order to become members of the European Union. Sweden has been actively engaged in eradicating death penalty, and numerous efforts have been made to raise the public awareness on the international as well as the regional level.
A few years ago, as a result of a cross-regional initiative, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty. The resolution was reiterated by the General Assembly in 2008, in 2010 and again last year. The resolution calls on states to establish a moratorium on executions, with a view to abolishing the practice. Furthermore the General Assembly called on States to progressively restrict the death penalty’s use and not impose capital punishment for offences committed by persons below 18 years of age and pregnant women. States were also called on to reduce the number of offences for which the death penalty might be imposed.
The UN resolutions have sparked debates in countries and regions where death penalty is still in use. These ongoing debates, which involve both parliaments and the society as a whole, are of great importance. Only when we identify national challenges and share experiences and best practices we are able to move forward towards a worldwide elimination of this practice.
Furthermore, the city of Alexandria in Egypt was a hub for many initiatives in the past few years carried out with the support of the Swedish Government and the European Union. In 2008, representatives of the Arab civil society gathered and issued the Alexandria Declaration on a moratorium on the death penalty in the Arab world, in which they renounced the practice, and encouraged retentionist countries to reconsider their position on the death penalty.
Two years later, a second regional conference took place in Alexandria from which emanated a toolkit on “Abolition of the death penalty in the Arab world: Effective strategies and available mechanisms”. Published in 2012, the toolkit aims to spread awareness and increase knowledge about the abolition of the death penalty, by supporting the work of human rights activists in the Arab World. The toolkit provides a range of instruments and tactics recommended by the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the African Commission on Human Rights and the Arab League Human Rights Committee.
The way ahead of us is still long, but I believe the day will come to see a world free of executions, a world where human dignity is respected, and where human lives are protected.
Charlotta Sparre is the Ambassador of Sweden to Egypt.
Report: Abolition of the death penalty in the Arab world: Effective strategies and available mechanisms