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Record number of states vote in favour of a universal moratorium

On 16 December 2020 the UN General Assembly voted by a very large majority (123 States) in favour of the resolution entitled “Moratorium on the use of the death penalty” at its 75th session. ECPM welcomes this further step towards universal abolition: since this resolution was adopted in 2007, more States have voted in favour of a total halt to executions than ever before.

This year, 123 States voted in favour, 38 voted against, 24 abstained and 8 did not take part in the vote.

Through this resolution, which is submitted to the UNGA every two years for a vote, the UN reaffirms that the application of the death penalty is an affront to human dignity and “calls upon all States that still maintain it to establish a moratorium on executions”. Find our full analysis of the 2020 vote and our map of the world vote in this article.

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Main changes compared to 2018

Results of the vote in plenary session

Positive progress has been observed in most parts of the world. For the first time, South Korea, Djibouti, Jordan and Lebanon voted in favour of the resolution. 9 States moved from one abstention (South Korea, Djibouti, Guinea, Jordan, Lebanon, Philippines, Republic of Congo) or an absence (Seychelles, Sierra Leone) from a favourable vote. 3 States went from a negative vote to a favourable vote (Nauru) or an abstention (Yemen, Zimbabwe).

Apart from the states that did not vote, 6 states changed their vote in a negative manner. 2 States changed their votes from ‘Yes’ (Dominica and Libya – in 2018 Pakistan reported a technical problem and requested that its ‘Yes’ vote be changed to ‘No’) and 3 from ‘Abstention’ (Antigua and Barbuda, Uganda and Tonga) to ‘No’. 1 State abstained although it had voted in favour at the plenary in 2018 (Niger).

In this particular year, marked by the Covid19 pandemic, 8 States were unable to take part in the vote (Burundi, Gabon, Solomon Islands, Nigeria, Palau, DRC, Senegal and Somalia) while there were only 5 absent in 2018. Of these, 5 states are abolitionist (Burundi, Gabon, Solomon Islands, Palau, Senegal) and 4 had voted in favour of the resolution in 2018 (Gabon, Solomon Islands, Palau, Somalia),and 1 State (DRC) had voted in favour during the vote in the 3rd committee held on 17 November 2020.

As the resolution is not legally binding, it cannot prevent a State from performing an execution or sanction that State. However, a firm call from the UN’s most senior political body carries considerable moral weight and is a precious asset in creating a world without the death penalty.

The 2020 resolution introduced new elements to strengthen the text and called on states to provide better protection for the death row prisoners. The text stresses the need to “improve living conditions in prisons” and recognises “that the death penalty is applied in a discriminatory manner against women”.

The text is also more protective of children, with the UNGA calling on states not to impose the death penalty on persons “who cannot be established with certainty that they were 18 years old at the time of the offence” and adds a new paragraph on the rights of children of parents sentenced to death.

Finally, the 2020 resolution recognises the role of civil society “in pursuing local and national debates and regional initiatives on the death penalty”.