India nixes death penalty abolition, says it's used but rarely

Last Updated: Wed, Nov 21, 2012 14:00 hrs

United Nations, Nov 21 (IANS) Two days before India hanged Ajmal Kasab, the lone remaining gunman convicted in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, it opposed a UN draft resolution for abolishing the death penalty saying it was used only on the rarest of occasions.

India and the US were among 39 countries opposing the non−binding resolution adopted Monday at a UN General Assembly committee. A record 110 nations backed the resolution voted on every two years. There were 36 abstentions.

Speaking in explanation before the vote at the Third Committee, which deals with social and humanitarian issues, India's delegate said each State had the sovereign right to determine its own legal system.

"Article 6.2 of the Covenant spoke only of the desirability of the abolition of the death penalty," he said, adding, in India, that practice was exercised only on the rarest of occasions.

"Indian laws contained provisions for suspending the death penalty in the cases of pregnant women. Sentences must be confirmed by a superior court and the accused had the right to appeal to a superior court or the Supreme Court."

As the draft resolution sought a moratorium on executions, India could not support the text in its present form, the Indian delegate said.

The representative of the US said the ultimate decision on death penalty must rest on domestic democratic practices within countries, consistent with international law. Clearly, capital punishment was not prohibited by international law and may be imposed for the most serious crimes.

The US was committed to its international obligations, and would focus on addressing and preventing rights violations resulting from improper application of capital punishment, she said.

According to the UN, about 150 countries have either abolished the capital punishment or have instituted a moratorium.

Amnesty says that progress is slowly being made however. Even in the US, Illinois last year became the 16th US state to abolish the death penalty.

The draft resolution expresses its "deep concern about the continued application of the death penalty and calls on states to establish a moratorium on executions, with a view to abolishing the practice".

The draft text would have the Assembly call on States to respect international standards that provided safeguards guaranteeing the protection of the rights of persons facing the death penalty.

By other terms, the Assembly would call on States to progressively restrict the death penalty's use and not impose capital punishment for offences committed by persons under age 18 or pregnant women.

States also would be called on to reduce the number of offences for which the death penalty might be imposed. For his part, the secretary−general would be requested to report to the Assembly's sixty−ninth session on the implementation of the present resolution.

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