5 Million Say No to Death Penalty

Sant'Egidio Community Presents Petition to U.N.

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NEW YORK, NOV. 4, 2007 (Zenit.org).- A global moratorium on the death penalty isn't just an idea of a few countries, but the wish of a large part of the world society, according to a representative of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty.

Mario Marazziti said this Friday as he led a delegation to the United Nations to deliver a petition signed by 5 million people from 154 countries calling for an end to capital punishment.

The delegation, led by the Community of Sant'Egidio and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, delivered the petition to Srgjan Kerim, president of the U.N. General Assembly. Also leading the delegation was Sister Helen Prejean, the author of "Dead Man Walking," which was the basis for the 1995 film of the same name.

On Thursday the human rights committee of the General Assembly was presented with a draft resolution on the issue by the countries of Angola, Albania, Brazil, Croatia, Gabon, Mexico, the Philippines, Portugal (representing the European Union), and New Zealand. The text was presented as a cross-regional initiative with more than 70 nations signing on as co-sponsors.

Stopping short of calling for an all-out abolition of the practice, the resolution calls for a "moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty," reported Reuters.

Will of the world

Asked about the experience of having collected so many signatures, Marazziti told ZENIT that it was the fruit of nine years of work. He added, "To have and collect five million signatures you need to talk to about 50 million people in the world, in 154 countries."

Marazziti said that he believes that the death penalty lowers the state and civil society to the level of a killer, and that while some defend a culture of life, they wind up legitimating a culture of death.

"For the first time a real moral interfaith and also lay/secular front was created" Marazziti noted in reference to the petition. "The thing is that it is a demonstration of the strong will of the world and not just an idea of human rights that is rooted in the Italian or European tradition."

Respect for life

Archbishop Celestino Migliore, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, told ZENIT that capital punishment "undermines human dignity."

He added, "Our delegation has been insisting on the conviction that the right to life is the proper context in which to deal with the issue because if we respect life in all its stages -- from the womb to the tomb -- we really can adequately resolve the issue of the death penalty."

It is expected that the U.N. General Assembly's human rights committee will vote on the moratorium during the second half of November. If it passes there, it will be put to a vote in the General Assembly in mid-December.

A total of 133 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, including more than 50 that changed their policies since 1990. Sixty-four other countries and territories continue to retain its use.