Source AP ©

Rwanda joins global moratorium on executions

Rwanda said that if its government could abolish the death penalty while perpetrators of the 1994 genocide still await sentences, no country should use it, joining other countries in appealing for a global moratorium on executions.

Diplomats and human right organizations met at the United Nations to push for a global moratorium on executions with the goal of ending the death penalty altogether.

Rwandan Minister for Cooperation Rosemary Museminali said that her country, which passed a bill outlawing the death penalty earlier this year, should serve as a model for others.

"Those who killed in Rwanda ... some of them are still littered in our neighborhoods, in our region and in the rest of the world. But we still feel it is our moral obligation to preserve the right of life," said Museminali.

The African country got rid of capital punishment earlier this year in part to encourage European and other countries to extradite suspected masterminds of the genocide.

About 500,000 people in Rwanda, mostly ethnic Tutsis, were massacred in 100 days of frenzied killing led by radical Hutus. The killing ended when Tutsi-led rebels under current President Paul Kagame defeated the Hutu extremists in July 1994.

The meeting was co-hosted by the Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema, whose country began a diplomatic push to gain international support for a moratorium following the Dec. 30 execution in Iraq of Saddam Hussein.

"The death penalty is an extreme and visible act of violence. Although it is sanctioned by law, it belongs to a culture that can and should be consigned to the past," said D'Alema.

During this year's U.N. General Assembly, representatives from 101 countries agreed to form a task force to pursue the moratorium and draft a General Assembly resolution, which will need 97 votes - the majority in the 192-member U.N. General Assembly - to pass.

The death penalty is no longer carried out in 130 countries, including the 27-nation European Union, which has fought for global abolition. The U.S. and China, which both have the death penalty, oppose the moratorium. So does the conservative government of EU member Poland, even though the country has no capital punishment.

D'Alema said the group was realistic about the strength of the opposition, which is why they are pushing for a moratorium before complete abolition.

"For the initiative to be genuinely transregional and mobilize worldwide political support around a common purposed, our focus today should be on the goal of a moratorium," he said.

Matteo Mecacci of Hands Off Cain, a Rome-based anti-death penalty group, said the moratorium allows countries that have capital punishment "to take a step towards the abolition, while at the same time makes it possible to save thousands of lives."

According to Hands Off Cain, more people were put to death last year - 5,628 - than in either of the previous two years, with China alone accounting for 5,000 executions. Iran ranks second with at least 215 people put to death.

The United States has executed at least 40 people this year, according the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based organization that examines problems with the capital punishment system.

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are among other countries that also allow executions.

But Hands Off Cain said that countries are increasingly renouncing it.

Deputy British Ambassador Karen Pierce told the meeting that Britain is a "strong supporter" of the EU position and hoped a U.N. General Assembly resolution calling for a moratorium would gain enough support to pass. The resolution has failed in past years.

"We hope that when the resolution comes to the floor it will be able to attract the widest possible support," said Pierce.

Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said "the death penalty cannot be reconciled with respect to human rights."

"The death penalty is used in a discriminatory manner. It's victims are often the poor, minorities and the marginalized," said Cox.