Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Europe leads on ending death penalty with Protocol 13 to European Convention on Human Rights

Europe leads on ending death penalty with Protocol 13 to European Convention on Human Rights

5:04 PM ET

Elizabeth Zitrin [Coordinator, International Outreach and Communications Project, Death]: "To the United States, Europe often represents our past. Our social and cultural institutions are a large, diverse melting pot, but were built on a European base. Our legal system and our democratic principles came across the Atlantic. Now, Europe is guiding us to our humanitarian future.

Italy's abolitionist movement has pride of place in the international journey away from the barbarism of state killing. On November 30, 1786, Pietro Leopoldo, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, signed the first recorded abolition by a State, the Leopoldina. More than two centuries ago, by also abolishing torture, he put into practice what the United States is still learning, that the death penalty is torture - it is the greatest and ultimate violation of human rights and must - and will - be abolished.

As we emerge from a period of American political life when torture was sanctioned at the highest levels of government, when federal prosecutors were ordered to seek the death penalty against their own professional judgment, when weapons were treated as the only way to communicate with other nations, we find guidance in human rights standards and goals established in Europe following the devastation of World War II. For 60 years, the Council of Europe has worked to maintain respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law, as the foundations of a tolerant and civilized society, and the United States has been eager to regain our pride in our high moral standards.

The death penalty in the United States is losing support for many reasons: it is a terrible waste of a huge amount of money, draining ever scarcer resources from plans and programs that can truly enhance our safety and better our lives - solving unsolved cases, improving forensic capabilities, providing community policing and hiring teachers, to name a few; it is not a deterrent and does not keep us safer; it is racially biased; it is biased against the poor; it convicts, imprisons and executes innocent people. And it is cruel, inhuman and degrading, as our European friends have known for generations.

Italy's adoption of Protocol 13 [PDF file], abolishing the last vestiges of its death penalty, is another example for us to follow into the future of the small world we all share, and which our country is rejoining as a leader once again. In this new era, the US will follow a new strategy, as President Obama said, that balances with our military might all the other elements of our power, including "the power of our moral example." "What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility," he said at his inaugural. "We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Those ideals still light the world...."

The strength of moral leadership is being felt in the United States and throughout the world on the issue of the death penalty. Death Penalty Focus serves on the Steering Committee of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, where abolitionist and retentionist nations work together toward universal abolition of the death penalty. Life is winning. World Day Against the Death Penalty, October 10, is also European Day Against the Death Penalty. This year, the international focus is on Teaching Abolition. We will be Teaching Abolition in high schools and law schools in the US and around the world. Next year, the focus of the World Coalition will be on the US. We are all in this together.�

We are all in it together on November 30 each year, the anniversary of that first recorded abolition in Tuscany. On that day of World Cities Against the Death Penalty in 2008, close to a Thousand cities around the world illuminated their monuments, symbolizing enlightenment, celebrating our theme, "No Justice Without Life.""

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