New York

21 September 2016

Secretary-General's remarks at panel on "The Death Penalty and Victims" [as delivered]

I thank the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the co-sponsoring Member States for organizing this important event.

We are here to confront a cruel and inhumane practice: the death penalty.

As Secretary-General, I have had the privilege of meeting with people who have suffered wrongful convictions and could have been executed.

I will never forget speaking to innocent victims who survived death row. I pay tribute to the courage of Damien Echols, Kirk Bloodsworth and all those who have been exonerated.

They lost years of their lives in a terrible injustice. But they are using their time now to fight for justice so others are spared.

The right to life is fundamental. Taking a life is too irreversible for one human being to inflict on another. It is the ultimate denial of humanity.

And the death penalty is not applied fairly.

It is used disproportionately against minorities.

The odds are stacked against people who are poor and disenfranchised. They cannot obtain effective legal representation – and that means they are more often sentenced to death.

Anyone should see this is wrong.

It is a travesty that many innocent people are put to death every year. We may never know how many – but we know that even one is too many.

The world reached a major turning point in 2007 when the General Assembly called for a worldwide moratorium.

Ever since then, the movement against capital punishment has been growing. More and more countries support the Assembly resolution on this issue. And some 170 States have either abolished the death penalty or stopped using it.

I thank the countries and activists who have pushed for this progress.

I am gravely concerned that some countries are suddenly resuming executions. Others are considering re-introducing the death penalty.

We have to keep up the fight for the right to life.

I am very proud to launch our new book today. I commend Assistant Secretary-General Simonovic for his tireless advocacy.

This book gives voice to the victims.

Our first concern is the victims of crimes and their families.

This book also takes a close look at many other victims: those who are wrongfully convicted, family members on all sides, the people involved in the executions and more. 

Its cover has a very disturbing image. We see a man, blindfolded. His face expresses agony. There is a noose around his neck. Hands grip the noose.

You may not want to open such a book. But when you do, you will learn that the man on the cover is being freed, not killed. And the more we read, the more hope we find.

This book introduces us to incredibly thoughtful and wise people.

One of them lost his mother to murder when he was four years old. He was just six when he was put on the witness stand to testify in support of the death penalty.  But when he grew up, he said, “my faith now resides in the law of love alone.”

We may not all have the same perspective. But we can all agree that victims should be at the centre of the debate. That is why today’s discussion is so important – and why I am so proud of this invaluable book.

I remain convinced that there is no place for the death penalty in the 21st century.

I urge the world leaders, legislators and justice officials to stop executions now, with a view to abolishing the death penalty.

When we achieve universal abolition, we will realize a more just, peaceful and humane world.

Thank you.