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October 11 2008 | LEBANON


European Commission: the challenge is abolishing the death penalty

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The Daily Star

A challenge for Lebanon: abolishing the death penalty

By Patrick Laurent

In 2007, the European Union designated October 10 the "European Day against the Death Penalty" in order to highlight the importance of abolishing capital punishment.  All EU member states have abolished the death penalty, and the EU is keen to promote abolition in those partner countries that wish to establish strong relations with it, including neighbors such as Lebanon.

Over half the countries in the world have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. However, global figures for its use remain significant and much too high. During 2007, at least 1,252 people were executed in 24 countries, and at least 3,347 people were sentenced to death in 51 countries. Eighty-eight per cent of all known executions took place in only five countries: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United States.

It is true that certain crimes are particularly cruel, but the EU experience has shown that the death penalty is not the solution. On the contrary, it serves to aggravate a culture of violence and retribution, not to promote justice and appeasement.  Indeed, the death penalty does not more effectively deter crimes than other punishments: The abolition of the death penalty in more than 50 countries since 1985 has not led to an increase in crime.

The EU is determined to work toward the universal abolition of the death penalty through all available diplomatic channels and as the world's leading donor in this field. Our political commitment has been matched by substantial financial support for concrete projects: under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, more than 15 million euros ($20 million) have been allocated since 1994 to support civil society projects aimed at promoting either abolition or a more humane and restricted use of the death penalty.

A culmination of the EU's efforts was the resolution on the moratorium on the use of the death penalty, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 18 2007. On that day, Lebanon abstained along with 28 other states, whereas there were 104 votes in favor of the text and 54 against it.

In the framework of the EU/Lebanon Action Plan, the European Commission, through its delegation in Beirut, has engaged in a political dialogue with the Lebanese authorities on the issue of the death penalty. The Lebanese government's moratorium on the implementation of the death penalty is an important step which underlines Lebanon's commitment to adhere to the principle of human dignity and the right to life. Yet still in 2008 several people have been sentenced to death in Lebanon.

The death penalty is progressively being abolished worldwide, most recently by Albania, Argentina, Rwanda, Uzbekistan, and the US state of New Jersey. We hope that in a near future Lebanon will join them by ditching its moratorium in favor of a permanent revocation of the death penalty, with the support of the Lebanese people.

Patrick Laurent is head of the Delegation of the European Commission to Lebanon.

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