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Photo by Lilly Marfy

UN General Assembly Committee Adopts Draft Resolution on Death Penalty Moratorium and for the First Time Comdemns Executions Based on Gender Identity

On November 19, 2012, a majority of the world’s states voted in favor of a resolution calling upon all States to “establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty” (see full text of the resolution here). The vote took place in the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee, which addresses social, humanitarian and human rights issues. This is the Third Committee’s fourth resolution for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, and the vote paves the way for a full General Assembly vote in late December.

After resolutions passed in 2007, 2008 and 2010, this year’s resolution looks set to be approved by a record-breaking number of states. In the Third Committee, 110 member states voted in favor of the resolution, which had been sponsored by 91 states. Thirty-nine states voted against (2 less than in 2010) and thirty-six states abstained from voting (1 more than in 2010). Eight states were absent from the vote.

While this year’s resolution garnered only one more favorable vote than in 2010, the numbers mask several significant and encouraging changes of position, notably an increase in support from Africa. Among African nations, the Central African Republic, Niger and South Sudan voted in support of the resolution for the first time. South Sudan’s vote is particularly meaningful given recent reports that legal representation is unavailable for many defendants who face the death penalty.

The break-down of the vote was more mixed for Asia and the Arab-speaking world, but there, too, signs of change emerged. While Sri Lanka and Maldives withdrew their prior support and abstained, three retentionist states, Afghanistan, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, passed from opposition to abstention. Tunisia supported the resolution for the first time, and although Morocco abstained, its representative delivered a statement recognizing the importance of campaigning efforts to raise awareness around death penalty issues. Oman and Mauritania, meanwhile, voted against the resolution after previously abstaining.

One day later, on November 20, the Third Committee also passed its twelfth resolution condemning extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. The resolution urges States to protect the right to life and to investigate killings based on discriminatory grounds. In a historic development, the resolution for the first time included “gender identity” as well as “sexual orientation” as grounds of discrimination (the full text of the resolution is available here). Introduced by Sweden, the references to gender identity and sexual orientation were criticized by Egypt, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, and the Holy See, but most opposing countries chose to abstain from voting. Only one country registered an unfavorable vote: Iran.