UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday called for a moratorium on the death penalty with a view to abolishing executions, approving a resolution opposed by the U.S., China and Iran.
The vote in the 192-member world body was 104-54 with 29 abstentions. The resolution is not legally binding but carries moral weight and reflects the majority view of world opinion.
Two previous attempts to have the General Assembly adopt a moratorium on the death penalty — in 1994 and 1999 — failed.
Amnesty International, which campaigned for a resolution, said that since then, the number of countries that have abolished the death penalty in law or practice has risen.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the resolution "a bold step by the international community."
"I am particularly encouraged by the support expressed for this initiative from many diverse regions of the world. This is further evidence of a trend towards ultimately abolishing the death penalty," he said.
The Vatican, a leading opponent of capital punishment, also welcomed the vote. "It shows that despite persistence of violence in the world, an awareness of of the value of life ... is growing in the human family," the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said on Vatican Radio. "This vote is interpreted as a sign of hope and a step forward on the road to peace."
The vote capped a heated debate in the General Assembly's human rights committee.
The resolution was co-sponsored by European Union states and 60 other countries, and spearheaded by Italy whose foreign minister, Massimo D'Alema, hailed its adoption as "an important step" to end capital punishment.
"The campaign should continue," he told reporters. "We call on each member state to implement the resolution."
According to Hands Off Cain, a Rome-based anti-death penalty group, 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 ranked second with at least 215 people put to death.
The vote saw the United States taking the unusual step of siding with countries such as Iran, China and Syria in opposing the resolution — and against its usual European allies as well as Israel.
Supporters of the death penalty stressed that the resolution would not interfere with their laws and practices, and several accused the U.N. of trying to interfere with their sovereignty.
The resolution calls on those countries that allow capital punishment to respect international standards that safeguard the rights of condemned inmates and to "establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty." It also calls upon those who have abolished the punishment not to reintroduce it.