11 November 2010
General Assembly
GA/SHC/3996

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fifth General Assembly

Third Committee

44th & 45th Meetings (AM & PM)


General Assembly Will Call for All States to Establish a Moratorium on Executions


with View to Abolishing Death Penalty, Under Text Approved by Third Committee


Vote is 107-38-36, with Four Amendments Rejected; Approves Texts on Ombudsmen,

Right to Truth, Self-Determination, Committee against Torture, Extreme Poverty


The General Assembly would, for the third time in four years, renew its call for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty under the terms of a draft resolution approved today in the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) by a recorded vote.


Following on similar resolutions adopted by the Assembly at its sixty-second and sixty-third sessions, the draft was approved by a vote of 107 in favour to 38 against, with 36 abstentions.  While noting ongoing national debates and regional initiatives on the death penalty, it would call upon States to restrict the use of the death penalty, to reduce the number of offences for which it may be imposed, and “to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty”.  States that have abolished the death penalty would meanwhile be called upon not to reintroduce it.


Three written amendments to the draft, as well as one oral amendment, were put forward by delegations who said that, under the Charter of the United Nations, the Organization was unauthorized to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any State.  All the proposed amendments were rejected by recorded vote.


The amendment proposed by Egypt was rejected by a vote of 62 in favour to 79 against, with 31 abstentions.  The amendment proposed by Botswana was rejected by a vote of 51 in favour to 81 against, with 33 abstentions.  Singapore’s amendment was rejected by a vote of 58 in favour to 79 against, with 30 abstentions.  The oral amendment offered by Bahamas was rejected by a vote of 54 in favour to 82 against, with 29 abstentions.


The representative of Chile, the main co-sponsor, noted how the draft — which he described as a balanced text — had drawn many co-sponsors from all regions of the world.  He emphasized the irreversible nature of the death penalty; the family of someone who had been mistakenly executed could be compensated, but the victim never could be.  He also noted how the first paragraph of the resolution was based on the principles and purposes of the Charter.


But, the representative of Egypt, the main sponsor of one of the amendments, said the jurisdiction of Member States was completely disregarded by the draft.  Several delegations had gone out of their way until the last minute to find a compromise that could accommodate everyone, but that efforts had fallen on deaf ears, he added.


The representative of the United States, noting the “robust debate” surrounding the issue, urged that a focus be placed on human rights violations liable to result from the improper application of the death penalty.  Her counterpart from China said that the draft was liable to create divisions and distrust, while failing to reflect the diversity of views on the issue in the international community.  Alluding to the large number of European countries co-sponsoring the draft, the representative of Rwanda said his country was “not yet” a member of the European Union, yet it was among the supporters of the draft.


All other draft resolutions approved today were adopted without a vote, including one that would see the Assembly declare 24 March as the International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims.   It would notably recognize the work of Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero, of El Salvador, who was actively engaged in the promotion and protection of human rights in his country.


Another draft approved today would see the Assembly authorize the Committee against Torture to meet for an additional week per session, with effect from May 2011 until the end of November 2012, as a temporary measure to help clear a backlog of work.  Its 10 members now meet for two sessions of three weeks a year.


The first texts approved today addressed the right to self-determination, human rights and extreme poverty and the role of the Ombudsman in the promotion of human rights.


At the morning session, during action on the draft resolution on the Proclamation of 24 March as the International Day for the Right to the Truth, representatives of El Salvador, Paraguay and the United States spoke.


During action on the draft resolution on the right of peoples to self-determination, the representatives of Pakistan, Belgium (on behalf of the European Union), the United States, Spain and the United Kingdom spoke.


The representative of Denmark spoke during action on the draft resolution on the Committee against Torture, while the representative of Morocco spoke during action on the draft resolution on the role of the Ombudsman, mediator and other national human rights institutions in the promotion and protection of human rights.


During action on the draft resolution on human rights and extreme poverty, the representatives of Peru, South Africa, Zimbabwe, the United States, Guatemala, Mexico and India spoke.


In the afternoon session, during action on the draft resolution on the moratorium on the use of the death penalty, as well as four amendments, the representatives of Singapore, South Africa, Malaysia, Micronesia, Gabon, the Russian Federation, Botswana, Argentina, Italy, Singapore, Benin, Norway, Bahamas, New Zealand, Spain, Barbados, Jamaica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sudan, Libya, Trinidad and Tobago, Yemen, Syria, India, Morocco, Thailand, El Salvador, Viet Nam, Nicaragua, the Maldives, Japan, Kuwait, Bangladesh, Mongolia, Bhutan, Switzerland and Brazil spoke.

Background


The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to take action on six draft resolutions, entitled:  Proclamation of 24 March as the International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims (document A/C.3/65/L.59), Universal realization of the right of peoples to self-determination (document A/C.3/65/L.51), Committee against Torture (document A/C.3/65/L.25/Rev.1), The role of the Ombudsman, mediator and other national human rights institutions in the promotion and protection of human rights (document A/C.3/65/L.27), Human rights and extreme poverty (document A/C.3/65/L.36/Rev.1) and Moratorium on the use of the death penalty (document A/C.3/65/L.23/Rev.1 and amendments thereto contained in documents A/C.3/65/L.61, A/C.3/65/L.62 and A/C.3/65/L.63).


Action on Texts


The Committee took action on a draft resolution entitled Proclamation of 24 March as the International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims (document A/C.3/65/L.59), which was introduced by the representative of El Salvador.


Recognizing the importance of promoting the memory of victims of gross and systematic human rights violations and the importance of the right to truth and justice, the General Assembly would, by the terms of the draft, proclaim 24 March as the International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims.  It would also ask Member States, organizations of the United Nations system and others to observe the International Day in an appropriate manner.  The draft would recognize, in particular, the work of Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero, of El Salvador, who was actively engaged in the promotion and protection of human rights in his country.


The representative of El Salvador asked for the Committee to adopt the resolution without vote and by consensus.  He added that he had been informed that Paraguay wished to be a co-sponsor.


The Chair of the Committee then, approved the resolution without a vote.


Following adoption, the representative of the United States said his country had been pleased to join the consensus and strongly supported putting the resolution’s principles in practice through the use of truth commissions and forensic science, to uncover truths concerning human rights.  The guide for the United States was fidelity to the truth, and the right to truth was linked to the right to seek information.  The United States acknowledged that the right to know was referred to in the 1977 Additional Protocol 1 to the Geneva Convention. Although the United States was not a party to that, it supported the principle that families had a right to know about missing family members.  The right to truth was intertwined with democratic ideals, human rights and justice.


Next, the Committee took action on a draft resolution on Universal realization of the right of peoples to self-determination (document A/C.3/65/L.51).


By its terms, the General Assembly would reaffirm that the universal realization of the right of all peoples, including those under colonial, foreign and alien domination, to self-determination, is a fundamental condition for the effective guarantee and observance of human rights and for the preservation and promotion of such rights.  It would declare its firm opposition to acts of foreign military intervention, aggression and occupation, since those have resulted in the suppression of the right of peoples to self-determination and other human rights in certain parts of the world.  It would call upon those States responsible to cease immediately their military intervention in, and occupation of, foreign countries and territories and all acts of repression, discrimination, exploitation and maltreatment, in particular the brutal and inhuman methods reportedly employed for the execution of those acts against the peoples concerned. 


The Assembly would also deplore the plight of millions of refugees and displaced persons who have been uprooted as a result of the aforementioned acts, and reaffirm their right to return to their homes voluntarily in safety and with honour.  Finally, it would request the Human Rights Council to continue to give special attention to violations of human rights, especially the right to self-determination, resulting from foreign military intervention, aggression or occupation.


Speaking before action, the representative of Pakistan said that the right to self-determination was one of the cornerstones upheld by international agreements and was a central principle of the United Nations Charter.  The draft resolution would send a message by the international community that the violation of that right was contrary to international law.  He hoped that it would be adopted by consensus.


The Committee then approved the resolution without a vote.


Giving a statement after action, the representative of Belgium, on behalf of the European Union, took the floor to explain the basis of the European Union’s decision.  The Union considered that the people’s right to self-determination was a fundamental principle of international law and remained a relevant issue in today’s context that needed closes attention.  There was a link between respect for self-determination and the strengthening of international peace.  The right to self-determination was entrenched in international covenants.  The Union firmly believed that respect for self-determination was an important pillar of the international system and closely associated with respect for all human rights, including the principle of equality between citizens.


Respect for self-determination required regular free elections, full respect for all human rights – including civil, cultural, economic and social - and fundamental freedoms, he continued.  The thrust of the resolution remained too narrow, as all peoples had the right to self-determination.  Therefore, the Union would have preferred that it reflect more clearly the practice of self-determination under international law.  It also contained inadequacies; it was not correct to suggest that self-determination was a precondition for all other human rights. The Union would have also liked to have had the opportunity to discuss the draft with it main sponsors, which would have achieved a better text.


The representative of the United States, also explaining its position, said he considered the right of self-determination to be important and joined the consensus.  The United States noted, however, that the resolution contained many misstatements of international law and was inconsistent with current practice.


The representative of Spain, aligning with Belgium on behalf of the European Union, said he wished to make an explanation to add its national considerations. Spain recalled that the principle of self-determination was not the only relevant principle, and that there were certain cases in which the principle of territorial integrity was applicable.  One such case was Gibraltar, which was the object of a specific decision adopted by consensus. 19 October.  The original population of the colony had been forced to abandon it, so there was no right to self-determination.  In the decolonization process of that territory, Spain was willing to proceed towards a definitive solution, as well as negotiation with the United Kingdom that listened to the aspirations of the people of Gibraltar.


The representative of the United Kingdom said, with regard to Gibraltar, that the United Kingdom had delivered remarks on 6 October 2010.  The United Kingdom had no doubt about the sovereignty of Gibraltar.  The United Kingdom also did not accept that the principle of self-determination had ever been applicable to Gibraltar.  That did not imply that they did not have the right to self-determination.  The United Kingdom expressed openness to trilateral discussions among Spain, the United Kingdom and Gibraltar.


The Committee then took action on a draft resolution on the Committee against Torture (document A/C.3/65/L.25/Rev.1).


By its terms, the General Assembly would take note of the Secretary-General’s note on the use of additional meeting time by human rights treaty bodies, their increasing workload and their requests for meeting time.  It would authorize the Committee to meet for an additional week per session as a temporary measure, with effect from May 2011 until the end of November 2012 “in order to address the backlog of reports of States parties and individual complaints awaiting consideration”.


The Secretary, OTTO GUSTAFIK, read a lengthy statement on programme budget implications.  Should the draft resolution be adopted by the General Assembly, he said, the estimated requirements would be met within the provision approved for the biennium 2010-2011, while the total requirements of $1.4 million for 2012-2013 would be met in the context of the proposed programme budget for that biennium.


The Chair of the Third Committee, MICHEL TOMMO MONTHE ( Cameroon), said that a “mother” would be required for the draft, and that in this instance that “mother” was the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary).  Should additional resources be required, they could be drawn from the next budget or from the contingency fund.


The representative of Denmark, the main sponsor, underlined the importance of the Convention against Torture and the role of the Committee in monitoring its provisions.  In order for the Committee to fulfil its mandate, it was “absolutely necessary” for it to have the necessary resources.  She introduced a number of minor oral revisions that were being made in order to achieve consensus.


The Committee then approved the draft as orally revised without a vote.


The Committee then took action on a draft resolution on The role of the Ombudsman, mediator and other national human rights institutions in the promotion and protection of human rights (document A/C.3/65/L.27).


That draft would have the Assembly encourage Member States to consider the creation or the strengthening of independent and autonomous Ombudsman, mediator and other national human rights institutions; as well as to develop and conduct outreach activities at the national level, in collaboration with all relevant stakeholders, in order to raise awareness of the important role of the Ombudsman, mediator and other national human rights institutions.  It would also encourage the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), through its advisory services, to develop and support activities dedicated to existing Ombudsman, mediator and other national human rights institutions and to strengthen their role within national systems for human rights protection.


Further, it would encourage the Ombudsman, mediator and other national human rights institutions to operate in accordance with the Paris Principles, in order to strengthen their independence and autonomy and enhance their capacity to assist Member States in the promotion and protection of human rights; as well as to request their accreditation by the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, in order to enable them to interact effectively with the relevant human rights bodies of the United Nations system.


The representative of Morocco, the main sponsor, said the draft was the outcome of a collective effort to overcome differences and show unity in the promotion and protection of human rights.  The first report of the Secretary-General on the role of the Ombudsman had enabled a stock-taking of the initiatives created and measures taken in implementing resolution A/63/169 adopted by the General Assembly in December 2008. The draft would enshrine the importance of the roles of Ombudsman, mediators and national human rights institutions. It also offered the chance for mediating institutions, where they exist, to consider greater cooperation between each other.


The Committee then approved the draft without a vote.


The Committee then took action on a draft resolution on the Human rights and extreme poverty (document A/C.3/65/L.36/Rev.1).


That draft would have the Assembly express deep concern that extreme poverty persists in all countries of the world and that its extent and manifestations, such as hunger, trafficking in human beings, disease, lack of adequate shelter, illiteracy and hopelessness, are particularly severe in developing countries; that gender inequality, violence and discrimination exacerbate extreme poverty, disproportionally impacting women and girls; and that the challenges today from the economic crisis, volatile energy, food prices and climate change are impacting an increasing number of people living in extreme poverty.


It would call upon States, United Nations bodies, in particular OHCHR and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations to continue to give appropriate attention to the links between human rights and extreme poverty, and encourage the private sector and the international financial institutions to proceed likewise.  It would also decide to consider the question further at its sixty-seventh session under the sub-item entitled “Human rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”


The Secretary noted an error in the title of the French version of the draft.


The representative of Peru, the main sponsor, said his delegation reiterated what had been stated two days ago when the draft resolution had been introduced.  He underscored that negotiations had been “inclusive, transparent and broad” with the aim of covering the different concerns of all delegations. It was now a balanced text, as reflected by its more than 100 co-sponsors.


The representative of South Africa requested that action be deferred for one hour as his ambassador was consulting with his Peruvian counterpart.  It was hoped that an amicable solution would be found to some matters being raised.  The representative of Zimbabwe also asked for a delay until the outcome of those consultations; if they failed to result “in something with which we are comfortable,” it would disassociate itself from the draft.  The representative of the United States said she would hold off until action was taken, before making a statement of explanation of vote.


The representative of Peru said he needed to get back to his ambassador, as he had not been notified of any consultations.  He understood that his ambassador was “in transit in this city”.  The representative of Guatemala expressed support for Peru in the consultations, adding that negotiations had been “transparent and open for all”.  The Chair said that, if an hour was required, he would suspend the meeting until noon, otherwise he would adjourn the meeting.  The representative of South Africa said he was not proposing a suspension of the meeting, but rather a postponement on action on the item for one hour.  The representative of Peru said he was trying to get in touch with his Permanent Representative, but had been unable to.  It was important for his delegation to continue with action on the draft this morning.  The representative of South Africa said he had intended to conduct consultations before the start of today’s meeting and that the break could be 30 minutes.


Hearing no objections, the Chair suspended the meeting until noon and encouraged delegations concerned “to solve the problem so we can take action on the draft”.


The meeting resumed at 12:19 p.m.  The representative of Peru, the main sponsor, said all co-sponsors had been kept informed on developments during negotiations on the text.  If the delegation of South Africa had felt it had been left behind, then he extended his sincere apologies.  Reaching a text that could be mutually agreed had been the sole interest of Peru, which lent great importance to good relations with all delegations and which had always wanted a transparent, open process that took all concerns into account.  It was hoped that the draft would, as in the past, be approved by consensus.


The representative of South Africa expressed appreciation for the spirit of cooperation.  His earlier intervention had not been intended to target a particular country or region.  Extreme poverty was a very important issue for his country.


In a statement before action on the draft, the representative of Zimbabwe withdrew his delegation’s co-sponsorship.  The levels of development of countries should not be redefined, but the draft would seek to do just that by stealth. Referring to preambular paragraph 7, he said it was patently untrue that extreme poverty existed in all countries in the world.  As for operative paragraph 7, why was one of the Millennium Development Goals – the eradication of extreme poverty – being redefined?  Extreme poverty was not the same in all countries, and poverty and extreme poverty could not be used interchangeably, as they were in the draft. The Monterrey Consensus had made it very clear who should shoulder the burden for development challenges.  Internationally agreed development strategies were eroded by the draft.  Zimbabwe would not block consensus, but it would engage with like-minded parties to ensure no further erosion of both internationally agreed goals and the ways in which they would be achieved.


Speaking in explanation of vote before the vote, the representative of South Africa said the question of extreme poverty and hunger was a priority for his country.  An approach that, year after year, sought to justify extreme poverty in all countries was a matter of deep concern.  Realization of the right to development was a pillar in efforts to eradicate poverty.  It was not an academic exercise.  In her report (document A/65/259), the independent expert on the question of human rights and extreme poverty had said that States has legally binding obligations to eradicate extreme poverty.  She had written that the issue should not be politicized; she had also noted that as a key tenant, the principle of non-discrimination, but this was not reflected in the draft.  The vision set out in the text was politically untenable for those in developing countries. South Africa would not block consensus on the draft.


The representative of the United States said that her delegation would be joining consensus.  The people and Government of her country were strongly committed to combating poverty at home and abroad.  The United States was the world’s biggest provider of official development assistance, with $8 billion – “that’s billion with a ‘B’” – going to least-development countries, and the total amount of official development aid being eclipsed by private contributions encouraged by tax laws.  The only sustainable way to eradicate poverty was economic growth.  The global development policy recently set out by President Obama was the first for any United States administration.  It was with the express understanding that the draft did not imply that States must become parties to instruments to which they were not a party that the United States was joining consensus.  No change to treaty or customary law was recognized.  It was the intention of the United States to remain a leader in the global effort to reduce and eliminate extreme poverty.


The Committee then approved the draft without a vote.


The representative of Mexico acknowledged the work of the delegation of Peru in negotiating the draft. Consultations had been open for several weeks.  It was an important subject for every country in the world and Mexico was pleased that the draft had been adopted by consensus.


The Chair thanked delegations for showing flexibility.


The representative of India said his country was joining the list of co-sponsors of the draft resolution entitled Proclamation of 24 March as the International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims (document A/C.3/65/L.59) that was approved at the start of the meeting.  The Secretary said the delegation’s wish to be a co-sponsor would be entered as a footnote in the Third Committee’s report to the General Assembly.

In the afternoon session, The Committee took action on a draft resolution entitled moratorium on the use of the death penalty (document A/C.3/65/L.23/Rev.1).


By its terms, the General Assembly would welcome the decisions taken by an increasing number of States to apply a moratorium on executions, followed in many cases by the abolition of the death penalty.  States that still maintain the death penalty would be called upon to progressively restrict its use, to reduce the number of offences for which it may be imposed, and to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.  States which have abolished the death penalty would be called upon not to reintroduce it.


Three amendments have been proposed to the text.  The first, sponsored by Egypt (document A/C.3/65/L.61) would replace the first preambular paragraph, which reads “Guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations” with a more expansive paragraph that recalls, in particular, Article 2, paragraph 7” which stipulates that nothing in the Charter of the United Nations shall authorize the Organization to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of States.”  The second, sponsored by Botswana, (document A/C.3/65/L.62) would insert an additional preambular paragraph recognizing that many Member States retain the death penalty for the most serious crimes.  The third, sponsored by Singapore, (document A/C.3/65/L.63) would insert the following as a new operative paragraph 1: “Reaffirms the sovereign right of all countries to develop their own legal system, including determining appropriate legal penalties, in accordance with their obligations under international law.”


The representative of Chile, the main co-sponsor, made a statement, emphasizing how many co-sponsors there were from all regions of the world and saying that the draft resolution was the outcome of three informal negotiations.  Attention was drawn and thanks were expressed for the openness of all delegations who participated for the fine spirit that prevailed and for their contributions, all of which were considered by the co-sponsors and many of which were adopted in the text.


Chile was of the view that this was a balanced text that invited states to implement a moratorium on the use of the death penalty in the event that this was not yet present in their penal systems, respecting the minimum legal standards set out on 25 May 1984 by the Economic and Social Council.  Likewise, attention was drawn to the report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Resolution 63/168 and also the steps taken by some countries to reduce the number of crimes for which the death penalty could be applied.  In some countries, a moratorium had been introduced and that had preceded the abolition of the death penalty.


Chile wished to emphasize the irreversible nature of the death penalty, if someone had been the victim of a mistake.  The family could be compensated, but the victim never could be.  The first paragraph of the resolution was based on the principles and purposes of the United Nations Charter.  All present were invited to vote for the resolution regarding the moratorium on the use of the death penalty.  It was also emphasized that the co-sponsors would like a dialogue on the subject to be further pursued and these debates should continue on the national level and within the Organization.


The representative of Egypt said that the right of every human being to live was in all religions, particularly Islam. Life was a gift given by God to all, and respect of that right was universal.  It was the international community’s responsibility to protect that right, while protecting humanity against all serious crimes.  The death penalty was for the most serious crimes and could only be imposed within the due process of law to ensure that the punishment was compatible with legal regulations and no one was arbitrarily deprived of his or her life.  Every human being had the right to life and it should be protected by law.  The aim was to make sure that the death penalty was only imposed for the most serious crimes through the judgment of a competent court.  There should be provisions for the right to seek pardon or appeal and due process, rather than abolition, was the key in that respect.


He said the death penalty for the most serious crimes should not be in contradiction with particular conventions.  Further, parties must have the necessary legislation and provide effective penalties for persons guilty of genocide.  There were also restrictions for crimes committed by individuals below 18 years of age and for pregnant women.  The death penalty could only be applied to mature adults who were aware of their deeds, and without prejudice to an unborn child.  Sharia law was against abortion, as no one should be arbitrarily deprived of their life, and it took the lives of individuals who had committed no crime and had no right to defence or appeal.


It had been argued that the resolution only offered a moratorium on the death penalty, but there were calls for the establishment of a moratorium with the view to abolishing the death penalty, in complete disregard of the jurisdiction of Member States, he said.  A number of delegations had gone out of their way until the last minute before action was taken today to find a compromise that could accommodate everyone, but that efforts had fallen on deaf ears within that group.  There was no will to listen.  How there could be a dialogue with the general membership if there was no dialogue among the group members?  The proposals had been rejected based on selectivity, which led to the conclusion that the draft resolution reflected certain social settings, even though not all rules could be applicable in all societies and at all times.  That should have been dealt with through constructive dialogue. 


Recognizing that some countries had abolished the death penalty, while some had moratorium, Egypt believed that neither side was right or wrong, and both had chosen paths based on their needs to maintain security and peace.  Neither side should oppose the standpoint of the other.  Arguments in this regard should be debated on a multilateral level.  The draft amendment was trying to strike that balance and respect the two standpoints.   Egypt would vote for this amendment and wanted that to be reflected in the record.


The Committee then took action on the amendments in the order in which they had been tabled.


The representative of Egypt read the text of the first proposed amendment (document A/C.3/65/L.61), of which his delegation was the main sponsor.  Recalling the Charter of the United Nations, he said that non-interference was among the foundations of “this august house”.  The proposed amendment was an attempt to respect the principles upon which the Organization was built, but during negotiations the co-sponsors of the main text had refused to take it into consideration or to even discuss it.  It was a sensible amendment.


The representative of Singapore said there was no international consensus on the death penalty.  It was not a human rights issue, but a criminal justice matter allowed under international law.   Singapore and other retentionist countries had tried to work on the language of the main text with the co-sponsors, but some had refused to engage in dialogue.  Why was that so?  Some countries wanted things either their way, or not at all.  The amendment was critical in balancing the tone of the draft resolution.  The question today was not about death penalty per se; it was about the sovereign right of a country to decide the issue by itself.


The representative of China spoke in support of the amendment, which reflected the principles of human rights and non-interference in internal affairs.  It was regretted by her delegation that the co-sponsors of the draft resolution had failed to absorb the amendment.  All countries were called upon to seriously consider the importance and positive significance of the amendment and to oppose interference in judicial sovereignty.


The Chair, Mr. TOMMO MONTHE, said a recorded vote had been requested.  At the request of the representative of South Africa, the Secretary, Mr. GUSTAFIK explained the operation of the electronic voting system.  The representative of Malaysia asked which delegation had asked for a recorded vote.  The Chair replied that Belgium had made the request.


In an explanation of vote prior to the vote, the representative of Micronesia said that, during negotiations for the draft resolution, the co-sponsors had carefully avoided language that would imply “an artificial hierarchy” within the Charter.  Making isolated references to articles in the Charter would ignore the progressive development of the human rights obligations of States since its adoption.  The co-sponsors would vote against the proposed amendment and all Member States were asked to do likewise.


The representative of Gabon, endorsing the statement by his counterpart from Micronesia, said general human rights principles with regards to the death penalty were in the Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Since the adoption of the Charter in 1945, numerous decisions had been taken by the United Nations relating to spheres within the jurisdiction of States.  By way of example, he cited the International Criminal Tribunals established for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.


Explaining the country’s vote before the vote, the Russian Federation said it was a cosponsor but it was difficult to vote against any amendment that contained reference to the United Nations Charter.  It was a co-sponsor, but it would vote in favour of the proposed amendment by Egypt.


The Committee, then, took a vote on the amendment contained in A/C.3/65/L.61, and rejected the amendment by a vote of 62 in favour, 79 against with 31 abstaining.


Next, the Committee took action on the amendment to the draft resolution contained in A/C.3/65/L.62.


The representative of Botswana, the main co-sponsor, explained that they proposed to insert a new preambular paragraph after the fifth preambular paragraph, stating, “Recognizing that many Member States maintain the death penalty on their statutes for the most serious crimes.”  The co-sponsors were convinced it was a statement of fact.  A significant number of Member States still maintained capital punishment in their respective laws, but only for serious crimes, like murder.  Only 95 member states had thus far abolished the death penalty in their jurisdictions.  By inserting the paragraph, they did not attempt to present arguments for, or against, the moratorium on the use of the death penalty, but rather to create a balance of the issues raised in the resolution.


States which retained the death penalty in their statute and continued to apply it had sufficient safeguards and opportunities for redress, he continued.  The death penalty, wherever applied, followed a thorough and exhaustive legal process ensuring transparency in application.  It was hoped that the co-sponsors of the draft resolution would see the merit in the proposed amendment, particularly since it put issues concerning the death penalty into proper perspective.  With that, Botswana urged delegations to support the amendment proposed, and appealed to delegations to support it.


A recorded vote was requested.


Wishing to make statement in explanation of vote, the representative of Argentina said that the text before them had been the outcome of extensive negotiation, held in a constructive manner and producing numerous language proposals.  A number of amendments had been made and that had contributed to the adjustment of the focus of the resolution.  Recognizing the efforts of States that had reduced the number of crimes subject to the death penalty and welcoming these developments, Argentina said it would vote against the amendment and respectfully invited others to do likewise.


The representative of Italy said the proposed amendment was contrary to the purpose and object of the draft resolution, as well as redundant.  His delegation would vote against it.


The representative of Egypt said the amendment put forward by Botswana built on international human rights instruments.  Its reference to serious crimes and maintenance of the death penalty as an effective measure to deter such crimes was part of international norms.  Insertion of that paragraph only brought needed balance to a much biased document that selectively quotes in favour of imposition of a moratorium on the death penalty.  The documents approved in this house are only recommendations and these should conform with international norms.


The Committee then rejected the amendment proposed in document A/C.3/65/L.62 by a vote of 51 in favour, to 81 against, with 33 abstentions.


Taking action on the third and last proposed amendment, the Committee heard from the representative of Singapore, its main sponsor, who read the text in full.  That all countries had a sovereign right to develop their own legal systems was a basic truth, she said.  The amendment was simple, factual and balanced, and upheld the principle that a State itself must choose its own path of development.  That was the crux of the issue. While her delegation appreciated the effort by some co-sponsors to work on the text, a “select group of co-sponsors” did not want to.  If the intention of the resolution was to open a dialogue on the death penalty, then the amendment should be supported.


The Chair said that a recorded vote had been requested by the sponsors of the amendment.


In an explanation of vote prior to the vote, the representative of Benin said that, as a co-sponsor of the draft resolution, his delegation wished that more effort had been made to accommodate the concerns that had been expressed.  Faced with “an issue of conscience,” he was suspending his delegation from the group of co-sponsors pending instructions from his Government on the amendment.


The representative of Norway said a link to judicial systems, including trial and punishment, existed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  The proposed amendment would divert focus away from the human rights dimension of the use of the death penalty.  Inclusion of the amendment would upset the balance of the text.


The representative of Chile said that States, having the last word, were ultimately responsible for the life of their citizens, whatever the nature of the crimes committed.  The irreversible nature of the death penalty meant that, in the event of an error, the family of someone who was executed could be compensated, but the victim never could be.


The Committee then rejected the amendment proposed in document A/C.3/65/L.63 by a vote of 58 in favour, to 79 against, with 30 abstentions.


The Committee then took action on the draft resolution as a whole.


The representative of the Bahamas moved an oral amendment to operative paragraph 3 (d), in such a way that it would have the General Assembly call upon States “to consider establishing a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty” (in lieu of “to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty”).  The new element of the draft resolution was its call for all States to engage in debates on the death penalty, but it prejudged the outcome of such debates.


The representative of Singapore spoke in favour of the oral amendment, saying it would simply asked countries to consider a moratorium on the death penalty.


The representative of Egypt said the proposed oral amendment was objective, non-selective and non-imposing.  It called upon those who thought the draft resolution to be balanced to prove it.  The oral amendment would be in line with the focus of the draft at hand.


The representative of New Zealand said the operative paragraph, as written, reflected the very purpose of the draft resolution.  The intention of the co-sponsors was to call upon States to establish a moratorium.


The representative of Spain said that, if a vote had not been requested on the proposed oral amendment, then her delegation would like to do so.  The crux of the draft resolution was represented by the operative paragraph in question.  That was the clear purpose of the co-sponsors.  Amending the text would run counter to the central objective of the resolution.


The Chair asked the representative of Spain if her delegation wanted a simple vote or recorded vote.  She replied that it sought a recorded vote.


Presenting an explanation of the vote before the vote, the representative of Botswana said that the delegation believed the amendments were very progressive and, for that reason, it would vote in favour of the oral amendments proposed by the Bahamas.


The representative of Barbados then said that its delegation felt the language proposed by the Bahamas reflected a flexibility with which it would be difficult to disagree and, thus, would support this oral amendment.


The Committee then rejected the proposed oral amendment by a vote of 54 in favour to 82 against, with 29 abstaining.


Next, the Chair invited the Committee to take action on the draft resolution entitled Moratorium on the use of the death penalty (document A/C.3/65/L.23 Rev.1).


Presenting a statement before the vote, the representative of Jamaica said the delegation maintained its position that each Member State of the United Nations had the right to determine whether or not to apply the death penalty for serious crimes.  Jamaica had been guided by the United Nations Charter, as well as the belief that States had the right to choose their own systems without interference in any form by another Member State.  Jamaica did not believe that countries that opposed the death penalty had the right to impose that belief on other countries.  Keeping with United Nations principles, Jamaica believed that States should refrain from taking steps and passing resolutions that interfered with the domestic affairs of other countries.  The issue of the death penalty fell within the domestic jurisdiction of each State.  Jamaica challenged the premise of a resolution that sought to impose the co-sponsors’ beliefs on States that had a different perspective.  International law allowed each State the right to decide if it should impose punishment.


The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) affirmed the right to life, but avoided the suggestion that the death penalty was contrary to international law, he continued.  The premise of Article 6, Paragraph 2 was that the death penalty was compatible with international law, as long as it kept in line with certain conditions.   Jamaica refuted the implication that the death penalty was, per se, contrary to international law.  The Second Optional protocol to the Convention was aimed at the abolition of the death penalty.  If a country opted to ratify that treaty, then it had committed itself.  If it had not ratified the Second Optional Protocol, it had affirmed that it was not prepared to make an international commitment to abolish the death penalty.  Jamaica would vote against the resolution, and its “no” vote would be against the interventionist principles contained in a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.


The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines said that chapter one of his country’s constitution said that no person shall be deprived of life intentionally, save in execution of a sentence in a court of law.  That constitution was bequeathed from the United Kingdom, its former colonizer, and had been affirmed by the courts over the years, as well as was supported by the overwhelming majority of citizens.  The sentence of the death penalty was limited to the most serious crimes in the country and was rarely carried out, but was a valid component of its laws.  It seemed to his country that those who supported the resolution sought to undercut the country’s political will and the desire of its citizens, with scant regard for the United Nations Charter or the sovereign right of States to manage their affairs.


Attempts to add balance to the document had been brushed aside, ignoring the legitimate context informed by some States’ decisions to keep the death penalty.  He took no issue with States that had kept the death penalty.  Many States also had their own history with the punishment, including the misapplication that then turned into revulsion by the population.  That misapplication was foreign to his country’s experience and highlighted the fact that each State had to come to its own decision without interference.  It might seem unfathomable to those that had recently rejected the death penalty that the entire world did not share their view, but the resolution could not wish away reality.  This resolution was a bad precedent.   Saint Vincent and the Grenadines did not have the right to “stick its nose” into the affairs of others, and demanded respect for its sovereign right. Accordingly, he would vote against the draft resolution.


The representative of Sudan said that, despite the fact that amendments were rejected, it was clear through the numbers that opted for the amendments that a controversial topic was being discussed.  There had been a big division of opinions, despite the fact that the group of States that presented the amendments had decided amongst themselves to deal with a minimum number of amendments, out of a desire for positive dialogue.  The sponsors of the draft resolution before the Committee, year in and year out, failed to introduce certain matters of human rights.  Not giving States their sovereign right to choose their systems, in accordance with the provisions of the United Nations Charter, was a matter that Sudan categorically rejected.  The issue of the death penalty had, for years, not produced international consensus.  There were divergent views, the death penalty came within the domestic mandate of States, and States had the right to choose the manner with which it dealt with this issue.


A specific vision could not be imposed in tackling the death penalty, he said that made the foundation on which the resolution was based run counter to the United Nations Charter, as well as the Vienna treaty and internationally agreed-upon conventions and instruments.   Sudan respected the views of States that, through an international dialogue, willingly arrived at using a moratorium.  At the same time, he called for respecting the options of states that still applied a death penalty in a specific framework for highly dangerous crimes, through transparent trials that took into consideration all parties.  He would continue to assert that tackling the death penalty was contingent on the legal systems of States and should not be a matter of political pressure, or an attempt to impose agendas and a bogus consensus on a matter that would never be internationally agreed upon.  He, thus, rejected the draft resolution.


The representative of Malaysia said references in the draft resolution to national debates on death penalty and a reduction of the number of offences subject to the death penalty were acknowledged and welcomed.  Capital punishment in his country was limited to the most serious crimes.  Strict safeguards were in place and the Government was considering further reducing the number of crimes for which it could be applied, including drug trafficking.  Debate on the issue had been better this year than in the past, but there was still no international consensus.  It was disappointing that amendments that would have struck a balance had been rejected.  If a resolution of the General Assembly was needed on the death penalty, it should reflect the diversity of views on the issue; moreover, a resolution that would ask States to consider a moratorium would stand a better chance than one that had been put forward for “singular political purposes”.  Although it had considered all options, Malaysia would vote against the draft.


The representative of Rwanda said the list of co-sponsors included States from all regions of the world.  Noting that his country was “not yet” a member of the European Union, he called upon other States to support the draft.


The Chair said that a recorded vote had been requested. The representative of Mexico asked which delegation had made that request.  The Chair responded that it had been the delegation of Singapore.


Making an explanation of vote before the vote, the representative of Libya said the death penalty was a controversial matter among Member States.  The draft resolution was an attempt by some States to impose their convictions and laws on other States.  The death penalty did not violate international law.  This draft resolution was blatant interference in the sovereignty of States as enshrined in the Charter and other international instruments.  If those behind the draft genuinely cared for the lives of all human beings, why were they not serious about ending wars that had ended the lives of millions of people, or about assisting those people chaffing under the yoke of colonialism?  In Libya, the death penalty was imposed by special courts in the case of intentional killings, and applied only when all legal steps had been exhausted.  All delegations were urged to vote against the draft.


The representative of Trinidad and Tobago said her country applied the death penalty only after due process for the offences of murder and treason.  It was satisfied that application of the death penalty was not inconsistent with its international obligations.  To address a moratorium in a General Assembly resolution with provisions inconsistent with the Charter was inappropriate.


The representative of Singapore said that tolerance for diversity of views could not be restricted to positions where everyone agreed.  A resolution could be forced through by sheer numbers, but doing so would not change the position of a State.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights had been signed by several European countries at a time when they had the death penalty in place.  Her delegation would vote against the draft.


The representative of Yemen said a moratorium on the death penalty required an international consensus that did not currently exist.  The death penalty was not a human rights issue and it was not incompatible with international law.  It was a matter of criminal justice and there could be no doubt that each State had the irrevocable right to choose its own social, political, economic and cultural model, including its system of criminal justice, without being subject to interference from anybody.  Yemen had participated in negotiations in a constructive spirit, but amendments containing minimal changes had not been taken into consideration by the co-authors.  Tension and divergence had been created. Yemen would vote against the draft.


The representative of Syria said the draft resolution clearly interfered in the domestic affairs of States in breach of the Charter.  It did not relate to the application or non-application of death the penalty, but to the sovereignty of States.  By requesting that States introduce a moratorium, it implied making changes to legal systems that were the expression of the history, culture, religion and political situation of each State.  The death penalty was a legal matter, not a human rights matter, and human rights required that the rights of victims be considered.   Syria would vote against the draft.


The representative of India said that, in his country, the death penalty was exercised in the rarest of rare cases. Death sentences could be pardoned or commuted; in the cases of pregnant women, they could be suspended, and they could never be imposed on juveniles. India could not support the draft as it ran counter to its statutory law.


The representative of Morocco said his country, while retaining the death penalty, has had a de facto moratorium in place since 1993.  Some provision of this year’s draft had already been incorporated in domestic legislation and the kingdom was considering reducing the number of crimes subject to the death penalty.  While Morocco would abstain, it would continue the fruitful dialogue with the co-sponsors in the future.


The representative of the United States noted the “robust debate” surrounding the issue.  While the draft set forth a policy objective, an ultimate decision on the death penalty had to be addressed through domestic democratic processes.  Capital punishment was not prohibited by international law; it could be imposed for the most serious crimes following due process and fair trials by competent courts.  Under the Constitution of the United States, methods of execution that represented cruel and unusual punishment were prohibited.  In recent years the Supreme Court had narrowed the class of individuals on whom the death penalty could be imposed.  Other countries were urged to impose the death penalty only in full compliance with international law, with defendants given fair trials with full due process.  All States and supporters of the draft resolution were urged by the United States to focus on preventing human rights violations that may result from the improper application of capital punishment.


The representative of China said his delegation would vote against.  It was regretful that the co-sponsors had tabled a resolution on an issue that fell within the sovereignty of States.  Countries had no right to intervene in the domestic affairs of other countries, and discussion and adoption of the resolution ran counter to the principles of the Charter regarding non-interference.  The draft could only further politicize and complicate the issue, and it could not change the position of various countries.  There was no consensus in the international community; some countries had chosen abolition or a moratorium, others applied the death penalty for serious crimes, while still others were considering its reintroduction.  Differing views in the international community would not be reflected by forcefully pushing through the draft.  To do so would not promote dialogue; rather, it could only create more division as well as an atmosphere of distrust.


The representative of Thailand said that his delegation would move from voting against the resolution to abstaining because it viewed the issue as a criminal justice issue and the right of States to decide.   Thailand was now exploring the social dimension of the issue in its national framework and in the context of its national human rights plan.  It adjusted its vote this year to reflect developments in the country.  It strongly urged the group of co-sponsors, considering that an important gap still remained, not just to represent one side of the debate.


The representative of El Salvador said the Government was of the view that the resolution was an important draft and would like to co-sponsor it.


The representative of Egypt said that, despite sincere calls to improve the language of the resolution in line with existing human rights instruments, the country’s calls were not heeded.  It was unfortunate that, during the course of deliberations, the rejection of selective quotations was highlighted.  Yet, selective quotations were used when it served particular objectives and, further, interpretations were added.  A blind eye was turned to the fact that the resolution was selective in scope.   Egypt respected the United Nations Charter and the fact that not all rules were suitable everywhere.  Member States had the right to maintain the death penalty for the most serious crimes.  If there was a trend towards the abolition of the death penalty, one could only wonder why so many States voted in favour of the amendments just considered.  The only trend was the departure from beliefs that the United Nations held sacred and supporting one side, while ignoring the other.  In light of all that, Egypt would vote against the resolution.


The representative of Viet Nam said he would abstain because the issue was a judiciary one.   Viet Nam had the view that each country had the sovereign right to develop its legal system, and that no country should impose its views within domestic jurisdiction.   Viet Nam could not agree with the approach of bringing such a controversial view to the Committee.   Viet Nam had retained the death penalty, restricting it to serious crimes.  That was to ensure the right to a peaceful life for the whole community.


The representative of Nicaragua said that the Government would like to join the co-sponsors and vote for the resolution, bearing in mind that the country had legally abolished the death penalty.   Nicaragua acknowledged its merit and hoped that, in the future, they could reach an international consensus on this matter.


The representative of the Maldives explained that, although it had voted against the resolution in the past, it wanted to acknowledge that it had the second largest moratorium to date.  Therefore, it would be voting “yes,” which only acknowledged its behaviour at home.


The Committee then approved the resolution.  On a death penalty moratorium (A/C.3/65/L.23/Rev.1) by a vote of 107 in favour 38 voting against with 36 abstaining.


In an explanation of the vote, the representative of Japan said the country had voted against the resolution, because it was of the view that it was up to each Member State to make decisions concerning the death penalty, including establishing a moratorium.  This decision should be based on several careful considerations, including public opinion, trends in serious crimes and the need for holistic balance.  The retention of the death penalty was supported by an overwhelming majority of the Japanese public.  The public opinion on this issue should be respected, so Japan had not taken a view counter to its public.   Japan also noted that no international consensus existed on the issue, thus it was deeply regrettable that the sponsors had decided to table this issue notwithstanding strong opposition from States.


The representative of Kuwait said the country endorsed the desire of every State to select their laws and to apply Article 7 of the Charter.  For that reason, it decided to vote against resolution.


The representative of Bangladesh said the country had provisions for the death penalty in its criminal justice system, but restricted it to the most heinous crimes.  Its legal system had safeguards in place to prevent miscarriages of justice.  Extreme caution was exercised and there were adequate measures of redress.  The moratorium would require a reappraisal of the justice system worldwide, but since that was not the case, Bangladesh had voted against it.


The representative of Botswana said the country voted against the resolution and wanted to record its disappointment with the rejection of the amendments.  The delegation would continue to vote against it, as long as sponsors failed to take into account that the death penalty related to the criminal justice system and its use was confined to the most serous crimes.  To that end, the idea of linking the death penalty to human rights was unacceptable to Botswana and other delegations.   Botswana reiterated its position that there was no international consensus on linkages between the death penalty and human rights.  The question of the death penalty remained a matter for domestic systems of Member States.   Botswana respected the decision of countries that had abolished the death penalty, or had a moratorium, but it regretted the co-sponsors’ view regarding perpetrators of serious crimes.   Botswana was proud of its record of decades of sustained democracy, and, as guaranteed by the constitution, was proud to state that the population was fully in support of the death penalty.


The representative of Mongolia said that, until the present, Mongolia had voted against the resolution, as it had still maintained capital punishment.  However, this year the President had declared a moratorium on the use of the death penalty by, virtue of his authority to grant pardons.  He indicated that it was the first step towards the abolition of the death penalty.  Also, a proposal to accede to the protocol on civil and political rights, which aimed at the abolition of the death penalty, was under consideration by parliament.   Mongolia voted in favour of the present draft resolution.


The representative of Bhutan said the country had abstained in the past, although it had abolished the death penalty through a royal decree in 2004, because it had recognized the right of States to decide their own system.  The royal decree was incorporated into the country’s constitution in 2008, which represented the will of the people.


Switzerland voted in favour of introducing a moratorium, illustrating its commitment to abolishing the death penalty, said its representative.  The Government expressed disappointment that it was not possible to introduce an operative paragraph regarding the exchange of views internationally, which would be a follow-up to what had been done in other areas.  If the establishment of a moratorium was the subject of a General Assembly resolution, it was logical that there should be an international debate.  Given the positive trends, it was Switzerland’s hope that genuine dialogue could be held in near future.   Switzerland welcomed the fact that the final vote on L.23 confirmed the general trend towards abolition of the death penalty throughout the world.

The representative of Brazil welcomes adoption of the resolution, which the Government supported.   Brazil believed that the resolution was a means to promote human rights.  They had come a long way in terms of promoting dialogue regarding the death penalty, which enabled them to adoption of a more balanced text.  Through dialogue, they could promote the understanding of positions, and Brazil was convinced that all parties were committed to dialogue.   Brazil emphasized the importance of transparent conversations to achieve a resolution with the broadest support of States.


The representative of Egypt said that he had voted against the resolution, but it remained an obligation of States that imposed the death penalty that it should only be carried out by a competent court of law and through due process.   Egypt was of the view the focus should be on an international commitment to make sure that nobody was arbitrarily deprived their right to life.  The resolution dealt with only one aspect of the right to life, and that selectivity in accepting which norms to highlight and which to not use was very apparent in certain parts of the text.  It overlooked the fact that no one single interpretation should be forced on to the international community.  Any resolution should adhere to international laws and human rights instruments.  Attempts to ignore one side while upholding the other showed a double standard, which was a precedent that was detrimental to international law


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For information media • not an official record