New York

05 November 2015

Secretary-General's remarks at Launch of the Book "Moving Away from the Death Penalty"

I have never seen and never been so proud to launch a book that is so disturbing.

I am honoured to join this distinguished panel and all of you who are strong supporters of abolishing the death penalty.

My Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonovic, who is here, has rightly been speaking out against the death penalty since he was a teenager in then-Yugoslavia. At the time, he was going against his Government – and that is typical of his courage. I am lucky to have him on our team.

Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi of Italy and I have focused on this issue together – including during our recent meetings with top officials in Rome and Milan. I thank him for his advocacy and for Italy’s consistent support for abolition.

Mr. Kirk Bloodsworth represents the reason we are here today. He is totally innocent of any crime. But like too many other people, he suffered the unforgiveable injustice of a death sentence as was introduced by the Under-Secretary-General [Cristina Gallach]. I am conscious that he says he was not exonerated because the system worked but because of a series of miracles.

We cannot rely on miracles. We need to fix a broken system. We need to abolish the death penalty.

In my foreword to this book, I commend it especially to those who are not convinced.

They more than anyone need to read these cogent arguments.

There will always be wrongful convictions – but when States impose the death penalty in such cases, they also kill any hope for justice.

No one has proven that the death penalty even deters crime.

We cannot base justice on financial considerations. But even a cost analysis shows that the death penalty has a higher price tag than imprisonment. The only exception is a quick execution – and that would only happen without safeguards, meaning more innocent people would be denied their right to life. That cost is too high for any society to bear.

Even with safeguards, the long delays amount to cruel punishment. That prolongs the agony of victim’s families, who would get faster closure with a quicker life sentence.

Many victims’ families do not support the death penalty. They prefer to find healing without more violence.

The harsh reality is: the death penalty discriminates. Study after study proves that if you are poor, minority or mentally disabled, you are at higher risk regardless of guilt or innocence. That is simply wrong.

No national interest can justify any violation of human rights.

When we safeguard the human rights of the most vulnerable, we promote more peaceful, just and stable conditions for all.

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

I thank all of those who have contributed to this invaluable book.

The injustices it documents are sickening – but the arguments for change are compelling.

The book is a great tool in our advocacy arsenal.

Organized campaigns – like this event today – are working.

More and more countries and states are abolishing the death penalty. We see progress in all regions of the world.

But there is also a backlash – so we have to stay on the frontlines.

I am deeply concerned that some States are sentencing more people to death and others are resuming executions.

I will continue to stand with Kirk Bloodsworth, and Damien Echols, who I also had the privilege to meet, and all the other innocent people sent to death row.

I will never stop calling for an end to the death penalty.

And I will press all leaders to join Italy and the many other countries that have a principled position – and refuse to kill in the name of the State.

This book contains a great deal of information – but it makes no prediction on when the death penalty will be abolished globally. That is up to us.

Let us write a new chapter so that the next edition may treat the death penalty the way we now treat public executions – as an aberration that is shunned in our world.

I thank you for your commitment.

Thank you.