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Brussels, 10 October 2011

The EU and the abolition of the death penalty in the world

What is the state of play?

There is a worldwide trend towards abolition of the death penalty:

Between 1993 and 2009, the number of countries that abolished the death penalty by law for all crimes, grew from 55 to 97;

As of December 2010, 139 countries - more than 2/3 of the countries of the world - were abolitionist in law or practice;

In 2010, 23 countries/territories were known to have carried out executions and at least 67 to have imposed death sentences (China, Iran, North Korea, Yemen, the US and Saudi Arabia top the list).

While use of the death penalty around the world is decreasing, the figures remain too high. Where capital punishment remains in force, there are serious problems with regard to the respect of international norms and standards, notably in the limitation of the death penalty only to the most serious crimes, the exclusion of juvenile offenders from its scope, and guarantees of a fair trial.

What is the EU doing in the fight against death penalty?

The global abolition of the death penalty is one of the main objectives of the EU’s human rights policy. In 2010, the EU issued more than 15 statements on the death penalty, most of which were on individual death penalty cases, and carried out numerous demarches against the death penalty. HR/VP Catherine Ashton also declared, in her speech to the European Parliament in June 2010, the EU’s work on abolishing the death penalty worldwide a “personal priority”.

The abolition of the death penalty is one of the thematic priorities under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR). Since 1994, the European Commission has funded through the EIDHR over 50 projects worldwide, with an overall budget of more than €33 million.

The aims include lobbying and advocating for restriction of the application of the death penalty, as well as moratorium and abolition, raising public awareness in retentionist countries through public education, outreach to influence public opinion, studies on how states' death penalty systems comply with international minimum standards, informing and supporting strategies for replacing the death penalty, such as alternative sentencing, efforts for securing the access of death row inmates to appropriate levels of legal support and training for lawyers and judges to restrict the scope of capital punishment.

A new Call for Proposals on the actions against the death penalty was launched on 15 June 2011, with an allocation of €7 million. This makes the EIDHR the lead source of funding for abolitionist projects worldwide.

A concrete example?

This year, within the framework of an EIDHR-funded action a regional conference on the abolition and/or moratorium on the execution of the death penalty will be held in Kigali on 13 and 14 October. The conference, gathering representatives from Ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs from more than 20 Sub-Saharan African countries, aims to discuss the abolition of the death penalty in Africa and increase the number of countries supporting the UNGA resolution for a moratorium on the death penalty to be voted in 2012. This is a concrete example of how the European Union, third countries and civil society can work together and make the difference towards the progressive restriction and abolition of the death penalty worldwide.

See press release IP/11/1160

Joint statement at:

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