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18 December 2000

18 December 2000

Following is the statement of Secretary-General Kofi Annan on accepting the petition of the Moratorium 2000 Campaign, which calls for a universal moratorium on executions, in New York on 18 December:

I am deeply moved, as well as pleased, to accept this petition for a universal moratorium on executions, signed by over 3 million people in over 130 countries around the world.

On behalf of the United Nations, I accept your petition, and I congratulate all those who have worked so hard to collect so many signatures. I wish it were in my power to grant their wish and, by so doing, to save the lives of thousands of men and women. Some of those men and women are innocent -- awaiting execution for crimes which they did not commit. Others have been condemned for offences which in other countries would carry a much lesser penalty, or might not be crimes at all. Many, however -- perhaps the majority -- are guilty of taking the lives of others.

The question is, can the taking of one human life justify taking another? Can the State, which represents the whole of society and has the duty of protecting society, fulfil that duty by lowering itself to the level of the murderer, and treating him as he treated others? Those who have signed this petition believe not. They believe the murderer’s death does not expunge his crime, but adds another crime to it. Within the family of nations, many have not yet accepted that belief. Many still hold that the right to life can be forfeited by those who take life, just as their right to liberty can be abridged.

I know that that view is strongly held by many persons of wisdom and integrity, and I respect their right to hold it. Indeed, the matter is one on which Member States of the United Nations are deeply divided. There is, however, an Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, which was adopted and proclaimed by the General Assembly exactly eleven years ago. Forty-three States are already parties to it, and seven more have signed it.

If I may be permitted to express a personal view, I believe that those States are right. The forfeiture of life is too absolute, too irreversible, for one human being to inflict it on another, even when backed by legal process. And I believe that future generations, throughout the world, will come to agree.

It is tragic that, while the nations debate this problem, people continue to be executed. When the change comes, it will be too late for them. And, therefore, I join you in appealing for a worldwide moratorium. Let the States that still use the death penalty stay their hand, lest in time to come they look back with remorse, knowing it is too late to redeem their grievous mistake.

Only sovereign States have the power to grant your petition. I pray that they will do so.

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