Madrid, Spain

12 June 2013

Secretary-General's message to the Fifth World Congress against the Death Penalty

I thank the organizers of the Fifth World Congress against the Death Penalty and representatives of government and civil society for mobilizing on this important issue.

I welcome the growing momentum against capital punishment since the General Assembly first voted on a moratorium in 2007.  Full abolition of the death penalty has support in every region and across legal systems, traditions, customs and religious backgrounds.  Currently more than 150 States have either abolished the death penalty or do not practice it.  Last year, 174 United Nations Member States were execution-free. 

Despite these positive trends, I am deeply concerned that a small number of States continue to impose the death penalty, and thousands of individuals are executed each year, often in violation of international standards.  Some countries with a longstanding de facto moratorium have recently resumed executions.  The death penalty is at times used for offences that do not meet the threshold of “most serious crimes,” such as drug crimes, and a few States impose capital punishment against juvenile offenders in violation of international human rights law.

Information concerning the application of the death penalty is often cloaked in secrecy.  The lack of data on the number of executions or the number of individuals on death row seriously impedes any informed national debate that may lead to abolition.

The taking of life is too absolute and irreversible for one human being to inflict on another, even when backed by a legal process.  Too often, multiple layers of judicial oversight still fail to reverse wrongful death penalty convictions for years and even decades.  This problem will be discussed at a United Nations panel in New York at the end of this month.  I trust it will benefit from your work.

More broadly, I wish you great success in advancing our global campaign against the death penalty.