Death penalty foes try new bid for UN resolution

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UNITED NATIONS, Nov 1 (Reuters) More than 70 countries opposed to the death penalty launched a fresh bid today to have the U.N. General Assembly pass a resolution urging an end to the practice, diplomats said.

Two previous similar attempts failed, due partly to opposition from the United States where many states still perform executions. This time, the text stops short of an outright demand for immediate abolition.

Instead, a draft presented to the assembly's human rights committee and obtained by Reuters calls on countries that put criminals to death to ''establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.'' It says the punishment ''undermines human dignity,'' that ''there is no conclusive evidence of the death penalty's deterrent value'' and that ''any miscarriage or failure of justice in (its) implementation is irreversible and irreparable.'' Unlike Security Council resolutions, those passed by the General Assembly are not binding, but they have moral force.

Diplomats said the resolution was put to the assembly committee by New Zealand and Brazil on behalf of 72 countries.

Among its supporters is the 27-nation European Union, which in May mandated Italy, a leading opponent of the death penalty, to lead a push for a UN worldwide moratorium.

The diplomats said they hoped for a vote by the committee in the second half of November and, if it passed there, for a vote in the full 192-member assembly in mid-December.

Data collected by rights group Amnesty International showed a fall in worldwide executions to 1,591 in 2006 from 2,148 in 2005, and a decline in the number of countries imposing the death penalty.

Some 99 countries ban capital punishment, while 69 still use it. Six countries -- China, Iran, Iraq, the United States, Pakistan and Sudan -- account for about 90 percent of all executions, and China the bulk of those.

Concern is rising in the United States about the death penalty and there is an unofficial hold on executions at present as the Supreme Court prepares to hear a challenge to the method of lethal injection.

Reuters BJR VP0220

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