I thank the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nations for organizing this event.
Twenty-five years ago, only about one-quarter of United Nations Member States had abolished the death penalty.
Today, more than four out of five countries -- an estimated 160 Member States -- have either abolished the death penalty or do not practice it.
The General Assembly will soon take up the “Resolution on the Moratorium on the use of the death penalty,” first adopted in December 2007.
The resolution has traditionally called on all States to “progressively restrict the use of the death penalty and reduce the number of offences for which it may be imposed” and “to establish a moratorium on execution with a view to abolishing the death penalty.”
These efforts have won a progressively broader margin of support from Member States, representing a variety of legal systems, traditions, cultures and religious backgrounds.
As outlined in my recent report on the use of the death penalty, I remain very concerned, however, about shortcomings with respect to international human rights standards in countries that still apply the death penalty.
I am particularly troubled by the application of the death penalty for offences that do not meet the threshold under international human rights law of “most serious crimes”, including drug-related offences, consensual sexual acts and apostasy.
I am also concerned with legislation in 14 States that permits the death penalty on children as well as the new phenomenon of sentencing large groups of individuals to death in mass trials.
Over the past two years, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has convened a series of important Global Panel events on the death penalty, focusing on wrongful convictions, deterrence and public opinion, and discrimination.
These discussions have deepened knowledge around the human rights dimensions of the application of the death penalty and its impact on people, who are most often poor and disadvantaged.
I had the honour to take part in two of these events, one on wrongful convictions and another on discrimination.
I will never forget listening to Damien Echols, part of the West Memphis Three exonerees, discuss his experience of being on death row for eighteen years for a crime he did not commit.
It was a heartbreaking story of the stolen futures of three young men as a result of wrongful convictions.
The West Memphis Three case highlights how judicial systems, even in well-resourced and sophisticated legal regimes, can make mistakes.
These errors are far more likely in the case of rushed proceedings, which do not respect due process of law - the worst cases being rushed proceedings against large groups of accused.
The Global Panel event on Discrimination illustrated how the odds are often stacked against the poor, ethnic minorities and other minority groups, who often lack access to effective legal representation.
These discriminatory practices in the imposition of the death penalty further reinforce the calls for its universal abolition.
As we look to the next session of the General Assembly, I call on all States to take action in three critical areas.
First, ratify the Second Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.
Second, support the resolution on the Moratorium on the use of the death penalty.
Third, take concrete steps towards abolishing or no longer practicing this form of punishment.
The death penalty has no place in the 21st century. Together, we can finally end this cruel and inhumane practice everywhere around the world.