Written Answers. - Capital Punishment.

Eamon Gilmore


30 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps, if any, the Government has taken or plans to take to promote the abolition of the death penalty worldwide in view of the resolution passed by Dáil Éireann on 18 December 1997; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8150/98]

The resolution on the death penalty which was passed by Dáil Éireann on 18 December last requested the Government to support the principles and objectives contained in the resolution of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. That resolution, which was adopted by the Commission during its 53rd session on 3 April 1997, calls on states which use the death penalty, and which are party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to consider ratifying the Second Optional Protocol, which is aimed at abolition of capital punishment. It further urges such states to respect safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty and reiterates the conviction that abolition would contribute both to the enhancement of human dignity and the progressive development of human rights.

The Dáil resolution also requested the Government to assume the responsibility of promoting, at both the Human Rights Commission in Geneva and at the UN General Assembly in New York, the adoption of a resolution which would create a universal moratorium on capital punishment in 1998.

Ireland has used and will continue to avail of each and every opportunity to press for the abolition of the death penalty worldwide, both within the United States and Council of Europe frameworks, in concert with our EU partners. At the 53rd session of the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1997, we laid particular emphasis on our belief that the death penalty, as a human rights issue, is a matter of legitimate concern to the international community, in line with the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action adopted at the World Conference on Human Rights in 1993. The resolution which was adopted enjoyed wide geographical support and was the first such resolution passed by the Commission.

At the present session of the Commission, which commenced in Geneva on 16 March last, Ireland is once again taking a very strong stand in favour of the total, universal, abolition of capital punishment. Ireland was the first country to co-sponsor the Italian resolution this year, following a request to do so by the Italian delegation in recognition of our strong support for this initiative in previous years. I understand that this resolution will be considered next Friday afternoon, 3 April, when it is likely to receive an even greater level of support than last year and be duly adopted by the Commission. It is encouraging that, for the first time, all EU states will vote in favour, including the British delegation which had abstained in previous votes on the issue.
In spite of some setbacks and disappointments, the trend towards suspension and abolition of capital punishment continues. Nearly 50 per cent of the membership of the United Nations has now abolished the death penalty, either in law or in practice. Furthermore, the UN Secretary-General reported to the Commission that, in the past year, two states had abolished the death penalty for all crimes, one had adopted a moratorium on its use and one had restricted its use. In addition, a further two states had acceded to the Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. I believe that the concerted action at international level is now achieving results and that we are involved in a process which is at once progressive and irreversible.
It is fitting that, in this 50th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Commission on Human Rights should once again take a strong stand on this issue. Ireland, as a current member of the Commission, will continue to take a leading role in the campaign for the universal abolition of capital punishment.