U.N. Secretary-General, European Union Ambassador Call for Abolition of “Barbaric” Death Penalty

In separate statements issued in connection with the 15th World and European Day against the Death Penalty on October 10, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres and European Union U.S. Ambassador David O’Sullivan have called upon all nations to halt scheduled executions and abolish the death penalty. In his first ever statement on capital punishment since becoming Secretary-General on January 1, 2017, Guterres described capital punishment as a “barbaric practice” that, he said, “has no place in the 21st century.” He said the death penalty does little to deter crimes or serve victims and asked those countries that still have the death penalty to “[p]lease stop the executions.” In an article published on the internet site Medium, Ambassador O’Sullivan—echoing the language of an October 9 Joint Declaration by the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the Secretary General of the Council of Europe—wrote that the death penalty “is inhuman and degrading, does not have a proven deterrent effect, and allows judicial errors to become fatal.” He said the EU “care[s] about the plight of American death row inmates” because “[a]s Europeans we believe fundamentally that the death penalty is incompatible with human dignity.” Guterres’s remarks came at a U.N. event on Transparency and the Death Penalty. “Some governments conceal executions and enforce an elaborate system of secrecy to hide who is on death row, and why,” the Secretary-General said. The lack of transparency, he said, shows disrespect for human rights norms and damages the fair administration of justice. A resolution adopted by the U.N. Committee on Human Rights September 29 also emphasized that a “lack of transparency in the use of the death penalty has direct consequences for the human rights of the persons sentenced to death,” and called upon countries “that have not yet abolished the death penalty to make available relevant information,” including “information on any scheduled execution.” Execution secrecy has been an ongoing issue in recent executions across the United States, and an Oklahoma grand jury found that “paranoia” on the part of prison officials about keeping execution information secret had “caused administrators to blatantly violate their own policies.”

With opinion polls showing declining support for the death penalty in the United States, O’Sullivan said that the European Union “is hopeful that the downward trend in executions will continue and ultimately lead to the complete abolition of capital punishment in the U.S.”  Referencing the experiences of America's 159 death-row exonerees, O’Sullivan said it was time to "[a]bolish the use of the death penalty, once and for all.... We cannot stand idly by while innocent lives are being taken by mistake.”

(D. O’Sullivan, “Putting an End to Capital Punishment — Once and for All,” Medium, October 10, 2017AFP Staff, “‘The death penalty has no place in the 21st century’–UN chief Guterres,” Agence France Press, October 10, 2017; M. Sampathkumar, “UN demands America end ‘barbaric’ use of death penalty,” The Independent, October 10, 2017.) Read the Joint Declaration by the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the Secretary General of the Council of Europe on the European and World Day against the Death Penalty. See International and Lethal Injection.