Italy’s Prime Minister Romano Prodi has called for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty with a view to its complete abolition.
Mr Prodi said in a speech at the United Nations that such move would guarantee better justice around the globe and an end to cultures of vengeance.
“If genuine politics means showing foresight, we shall perform a great political act through the adoption of this resolution,” Mr Prodi said in his address to world leaders at the UN General Assembly.
“It will demonstrate that humankind isn’t capable of making progress only in science but also in the field of ethics.”A moratorium is expected to face opposition from the US and other countries that allow capital punishment, including Iran and China.
Italy began a diplomatic push against the death penalty in the wake of the December 30 execution in Iraq of Saddam Hussein, and has been lobbying to garner support for months.
Past lobbying by Italy for UN action to strike down the death penalty has been unsuccessful.
Mr Prodi told the General Assembly that a “growing trend” worldwide against capital punishment boded well for his efforts, and support for the moratorium was growing “day by day” in Europe and in every region of the world.
Still, the Italian prime minister warned of an uphill battle in an open letter published in several European newspapers earlier in the day.
“We know that we cannot harbour illusions. The battle against capital punishment is a difficult one, because many countries still practice it,” Prodi wrote in the letter published today in La Repubblica, Liberation and El Pais dailies.
Italian Foreign Ministry spokesman Pasquale Ferrara said that about 95 countries had expressed support for Italy’s push for a moratorium.
The resolution would need two-thirds of the votes in the 192-member UN General Assembly to pass.
Mr Prodi said in his UN address that approving the moratorium “will prove that human beings today are better than they were yesterday also in moral terms.”
Mr Prodi met yesterday with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and discussed the moratorium, among other topics. A diplomatic official who is travelling with Prodi said Ban supported the initiative.
A UN spokesman, Brenden Varma, said Ban’s views on the death penalty had not changed since January, when he stated his belief that life was precious and must be protected.
“International law affirms these values. I recognise the growing trend in international law and in national practice towards a phasing out of the death penalty,” Ban said at the time. “I encourage that trend.”
Prodi said today he hoped for a vote in November at the latest.
Italy is a firm opponent of capital punishment.
Rome’s Colosseum, once the arena for deadly gladiator combat and executions, has become a symbol of the country’s stance.
Since 1999, it is lit up every time a death sentence is commuted somewhere in the world or a country abolishes capital punishment.
The European Union is likely to back Italy’s call, but countries that have the death penalty, including the US, Iran, Saudi Arabia and China, are expected to oppose it.
The United States has executed at least 40 people this year and 1,098 people since the US Supreme Court allowed capital punishment to resume in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington organisation that looks at problems with the capital punishment system.