Countries Debate Soft Law in Death Penalty

By | November 15, 2018

NEW YORK, November 16 (C-Fam) A dramatic debate on national sovereignty erupted in the General Assembly on Tuesday over a proposed resolution on the global abolition of the death penalty.

“Should we here accept the attempt by some countries to impose their views on the rest of the world? If one group of countries can impose their views where will they stop? When will they stop?” asked Ambassador Burhan Gafoor of Singapore in a passionate speech on behalf of 34 countries who oppose UN promotion of the abolition of the death penalty.

Gafoor introduced an amendment to restore a paragraph in the resolution as adopted in previous years that acknowledges “the sovereign right of all countries to develop their own legal system, including determining appropriate legal penalties in accordance with their international obligations.”

He took issue with what he described as the high-handed ways of European countries, even charging that “there was no real negotiation” since they did not make attempts to compromise their positions to include the paragraph about sovereignty from previous years.

“In the last three weeks the main proponents of the resolution on the moratorium on the death penalty have mobilized their mighty machine, their vast diplomatic network, with many of their ambassadors both in New York and around the world having been mobilized with a single purpose to defeat one single sentence,” he complained.

“I don’t understand what is so objectionable about this one single sentence… What is so objectionable about this reference of the principle of sovereignty that it requires the vast machine of the mighty proponents of the resolution to mobilize and try and defeat this particular amendment?” Gafoor wondered in astonishment.

“The moratorium resolution shows that one group of countries can initiate a resolution in order to impose their view on other countries who hold a different view even though this view is justified by international law,” Gafoor explained.

More than anything Gafoor warned against the acrimony that the Europeans, who are historically behind this resolution, would introduce into the UN system and its implications for multilateralism. He called the amendment a “small step forward for multilateralism.” And he urged mutual respect.

“When there is no consensus, the solution cannot be to impose the view of one group of countries on the rest of the world, especially on issues relating to culture, social values, and legal systems. These are sensitive issues, and we must respect the great diversity of positions and perspectives,” he explained.

“Why are the proponents so keen and so determined to shape the whole world in their own image? Why?” he asked rhetorically.

Several sponsors of the resolution responded to Goofor by dismissing his remarks and the amendment as “unnecessary.”

“Nothing in this resolution compels a state to adjust its criminal system. Nothing in this resolution asserts that the imposition of the death penalty is contrary to international law. The resolution imposes nothing,” a delegate of Austria insisted on behalf of the European Union.

He called Goofor’s concerns “conspiracy theories.”

The UN Secretary-General and his staff already maintain that international law requires countries to ban the death penalty, even though the UN civil rights treaty admits the possibility of the death penalty being used for the gravest crimes.

The Singapore amendment was adopted by a vote of 96 in favor, 73 against, and 14 abstentions. The resolution itself passed by a vote of 123 in favor, 36 against, and 30 abstentions.