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Minnesota Advocates Urges the United States to Comply with Council of Europe Request to Abolish the Death Penalty
1/29/2004 10:15 AM

The Council of Europe has asked two of its Observer members, the United States and Japan, to comply with basic human rights principles and end executions as a punishment for crimes. In June of 2001, the Council's Human Rights Panel issued a report noting that the United States and Japan are in violation of their obligations under a council resolution pertaining to Observer member states. The report stated that the use of execution as punishment is in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and that "the death penalty has no legitimate place in the penal systems of modern civilized societies." The report set a deadline of January 2003 for the two states to take concrete action towards ending executions including placing an immediate moratorium on executions and improving conditions for inmates on death row; both countries continue to execute inmates. 

The Council of Europe is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the protection of human rights, pluralist democracy and the rule of law, among other goals. Any European state can become a member of the Council of Europe provided it accepts the principle of the rule of law and guarantees human rights and fundamental freedoms to everyone under its jurisdiction. The Council of Europe is distinct from the European Union, though all European Union states are members of the Council. 

The Council has admitted several Observer member states to its various bodies, including the United States, Canada, Japan, Israel, the Holy See and Mexico. Observer status may be granted to any state willing to cooperate with the Council and accept the Council's basic human rights tenets. Observer members can appoint a permanent observer to the Council and can participate in certain Council agreements and activities upon invitation.

One of the Council's successes has been the abolition of the death penalty in all but three member states. Those who have not abolished it (Russia, Turkey and Serbia and Montenegro) have imposed moratoriums on executions. The last execution in any Council of Europe member state was carried out in 1997 in Ukraine.

In early October 2003, the Council voted to continue attempts to engage the United States and Japan in dialogue regarding abolition, but has not ruled out the cancellation of the two nations' Observer status. Japan, which has executed four individuals since the June 2001 report, has sent representatives to engage in Council dialogue on this issue.  The United States, which has executed 137 individuals in that same time period, has refused any effort at dialogue.

Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights urges the United States to comply immediately with international human rights standards by imposing a moratorium on executions across the nation. In addition, the United States government must follow the example of Japan and begin a meaningful dialogue with the Council of Europe on the abolition of the death penalty.

Compiled from:

Don Hill, EU: Council Of Europe Seeks Trans-Atlantic Dialogue On Death Penalty, Radio Free Europe, 2 October 2003.

U.S., Japan urged to end executions, (last visited Oct. 20, 2003)

Council of Europe Portal