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OAS Hosts Roundtable for World Day against the Death Penalty
Oct 11, 2012 - 9:17:01 PM

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The Organization of American States (OAS) marked World Day against the Death Penalty with a Policy Roundtable on worldwide efforts to eradicate capital punishment titled, “How much longer until the universal abolition of the death penalty?”

The 46th Policy Roundtable was organized by the OAS Secretariat for Legal Affairs and the Permanent Observer Mission of France to the hemispheric organization, and took place at the headquarters of the OAS in Washington, DC.

The Secretary for External Relations of the OAS, Alfonso Quiñonez, opened the session with a presentation in which he reported that “capital punishment is still practiced in more than fifty countries” around the world, but also highlighted the progress made recently toward its elimination. “Since 2007 the General Assembly of the United Nations has approved each year a resolution supporting a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, and several countries have suspended executions, which constitutes a first step toward the abolition of capital punishment,” he said.

Ambassador Quiñonez recalled that the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man consecrates “the right to life, liberty and security of person.” Similarly, he said, the American Convention on Human Rights “adopts the required provisions to definitively limit” the application of the death penalty.

“The process toward the abolition of the death penalty demands, obviously, an unending and decisive commitment, but also, reflection,” said Secretary Quiñonez. “In that sense, we want to continue, as an organization, to reinforce our commitments in the name of the values we share, in our duty to confer dignity on the human condition.”

The Roundtable included a panel discussion moderated by the Secretary of Legal Affairs of the OAS, Jean Michel Arrighi, in which the Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Emilio Álvarez Icaza; the Permanent Observer of France to the OAS, Pierre-Henri Guignard; and the Associate Dean for International and Comparative Legal Studies of the George Washington Law School, Susan Karamanian took part.

The Executive Secretary of the IACHR highlighted that “the death penalty is the limit, the extreme in terms of the use of force by the state.” He recalled the report compiled by the IACHR in December of last year,“the Death Penalty in the Inter-American System of Human Rights: from restrictions to abolition,”which represents a systematic analysis of what is happening in the Americas with respect to the issue. Álvarez Icaza emphasized that the IACHR has “a complementary role” in the acceleration of the process toward abolition, because in the end the “internal bodies” of the states themselves are the “primary responsible agencies” that must generate any process of transformation. In conclusion, the Executive Secretary said that “what must not happen is for the state to confuse justice with vengeance. The democratic rule of law must generate a condition to achieve and administer justice, not to achieve and administer vengeance.”

The Permanent Observer of France to the OAS, Ambassador Pierre-Henri Guignard, reported that yesterday in Paris, the Foreign Minister of France, Laurent Fabius, “launched a campaign for the universal abolition of the death penalty.” The French diplomat said that the “deterrent value” of the death penalty “is a myth” and said there was no connection between this type of punishment and a reduction in criminality. “Our objective,” he said, “is to promote the total and universal abolition of the death penalty as an inefficient, irreversible, and inhumane punishment that cannot be justified.”

Susan Karamanian, Associate Dean of George Washington University, said that, although the United States still practices the death penalty, ”since the 1999 peak, there’s been a fairly steady decline.” “With the decline in executions there is a belief, a tentative one I think, that a shameful era may be coming to a close.” But it is important to note, she said that the decline in the use of the death penalty does not reflect “a fundamental opposition to the death penalty, but they show problems with the process. I do believe that there is a sense in Americans of basic fairness and I think many Americans understand that the process has defied that expectation.”

During the debate, the Permanent Representatives to the OAS from Mexico, Ecuador and Dominica, as well as the Permanent Observer of Spain to the organization and the Ambassador of the Arab League in Washington, DC also took part.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at www.oas.org.

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