NOVEMBER 21, 1994
Since this is the first time that I take the floor in this Committee, I would like to congratulate you, Mr. Chiarman, and the other members of the Bureau on your elections, I am confident that under your guidance, the Third Committee will successfully conduct its works.
Let me begin bu saying that the Italian delegation fully supports the views expressed this morning on item 100(e) by Germany in its capacity as the current President of the European Union.
Italy wishes to express its sincere appreciation to all delegations that have participated in the discussion on the inclusion of the additional sub-item "Capital Punishment" in the General Assembly agenda. We address our thanks both to those who have expressed their support for the initiative and those who have expressed their opposition.
Capital punishment is a sensitive issue that is subject to a wide spectrum of often divergent cultural, religious and ideological viewpoints. Yet despite our differenceeeeeeees, there is a considerable amount of common ground that we all share based on humanitarian principles. Italy has its own strong convictions on the issue, but let me make it loud and clear that we do not intend to impose anything on anyone. When together with other member States we requested the inclusion of the question of capital punishment in the agenda, our aim was certainly not to force a confrontation between abolitionist and antiabolitionist States, but to re-open the discussion in a costructive and co-operative spirit. This process will bring us up-to-date on current international standards, and allow us to reasses them for present and for future generations. Capital punishment is a general heading that describes a number of issues, not solely the dilemma of wether or not to reatain the extreme punishment.
In the past both the General Assembly and ECOSOC have discussed the various implications of this issue and adopted a number of resolutions.
As far back as 1968, a General Assembly resolution (2393-XXIII) focused on full respect for due process and and for the rights of the accused in cases punishable by death. It also focused on the possibility of Member States placing restrictions on capital punishment or abolishing it altogether.
In 1971, General Assembly resolution 2857 (XXVI) affirmed that in order to fully guarantee the right to life, provided for in article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the "main objective to be pursued is that of progressively restricting the number of offences for which capital punishment may be imposed, with a view to the desirability of abolishing this punishment in all countries." This goal was confirmed in GA resolution 32/61 of December 8, 1977.
These same principles were reaffirmed in various ECOSOC resolutions, starting in 1973, and most recently on July 24, 1990 (N/1990/51).
In view of the importance attached to the question of capital punishment by the U.N. the international community and public opinion. In 1989 the GA adopted the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.
Finally, the UN's ongoing attention to monitoring this problem is confirmed by the regular preparation of a five-year report on capital punishment by the Secretary-General-the last having been in 1990, and the next fue out in 1995.
This short summary of UN precedents shows that this issue is of paramount importance and worthly of continued and perhaps increased attention.
In the last report to the UN Committee on Crime Prevention and Control (1989), the Rapporteur noted that "Although the world-wide trend towards abolition has proceeded at a steady pace, it has to be recognized that in many regions of the world there has been a marked resistance to appeals for change."
The rise in the most heinous crimes in some countries have led their governments to reaffirm the belief that capital punishment has a general deterrent effect. However, various statistical studies demonstrate, on the contrary, that there is no correlation whatsoever between the rate of heinous crimes and instances of capital punishment. It is the job of Governments to ensure that public policy on this sensitive matter be determined in a judicious and dispassionate manner.
An increasing number of States with the death penalty in their legislation have become abolitionist "in practice." But while the suspension of executions may pave way to the abolition of the death penalty, it provides no legal guarantees to the immates who remain on death row.
The UN approach to a future with no death penalty has been reinforced by the decision to exclude this punishment at the international level for the most terrible crimes. Crimes against international peace and security and violations of humanitarian law are not punishable by the death sentence, which has been excluded from the Statutes of the International Tribunals for crimes committeed in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda. In more general terms, it has also been excluded from the Draft Statute of the proposed International Criminal Court, which was just prepared by the International Law Commission.
The right to life is a fundamental human right. This is spelled out not only in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also in article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and article 6 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the international customary law. Italy fully believes that the imposition of capital punishment is a violation of the right to life. Many Countries share this view. Many others do not. We very much hope that the progressive development of international custom will lead all Countries to this same conclusion. The abolition of the death penalty can only come about by means of a voluntary process, through an autonomous decision by individual Countries to freely amend their laws, or to accept international rules such as the Second Optional Protocol.
However long the road to a generalized abolition of capital punishment may seem, certain aspects of executions raise serious legal, social and humanitarian concerns.
ECOSOC resolution 1984/50 adopted a series of nine safeguards guaranteeing the protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty.
According to a general and fundamental principle of criminal law and justice, the death penalty - like any other criminal penalty - cannot be introduced retroactively.
Since the death penalty represents the most serious punishment, it shoul be applied exclusively to the most serious crimes. It cannot be looked upon as an antidote or a deterrent for crime. The GA's and ECOSOC's many years of action in this direction are still awaiting more positive action by non abolitionist States.
Despite numerous resolutions and international instruments to which we have already referred, there still appears to be some reluctance to introduce rules prohibiting the execution of minors, pregnant women and the insane. These restrictions represent a minimun standard that shoul be observed without exception.
It is not the intention of my Delegation to explore all the different aspects of the legal and humanitarian guarantees in the applications of capital punishment (fair trial, posibility of an appeal, pardon, commutation of sentence). However, we wish to reacall ECOSOC resolution 1984/50, which states that "when capital punishment occurs, it shall be carried out so as to inflict the minimun possible suffering."
In consideration of possible future developments of the abolitionist movement, and of humanitarian implications of the question of the death penalty, the Italian Government wishes to submit a concrete proposal.
A growing number of Countries that have not abolished capital punishment are following the path of retaining the death penalty without enforcing it. Thei are convinced that the very existence of the death penalty, even if not enforced, may have a positive deterrent effect. As was stated in the last UN report on capital punishment, "the death penalty in many Countries has so far greater symbolic than practical significance."
The practice of not enforcing death sentences could then become a sort of general practice based on humanitarian principles.
For all these reasons, my Government advanced the proposal that all retentionist States should consider suspending executions until the year 2000. This six-year moratorium would represent a tangible step toward a possibile reconciliation between divergent positions and allow a period of reflection on the issue.
In conclusion, my Government wishes to stress that our initiative on capital punishment is two-fold: to stimulate a greater opening in the debate on the abolition of the death penalty; and to make the international community more aware of the importance of full respect for all safeguards, in compliance with relevant international instruments and in adherence to universal moral and humanitarian standars. In this perspective, it is the view of my Government that our proposal for a moratorium on executions is the best and most widely-acceptable way to achieve these goals.