India has opposed a UN resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty, saying it goes against Indian law and the sovereign right of countries to determine their own laws and penalties. “The resolution before us sought to promote a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty,” Mayank Joshi, a counsellor at India’s UN Mission said on Thursday. “My delegation, therefore, has voted against the resolution as a whole as it goes against Indian statutory law.”
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The resolution, however, was adopted by the General Assembly’s committee dealing with humanitarian affairs by 115 votes to 38 with 31 abstentions after an acrimonious debate and the adoption of an amendment to recognise the sovereign rights of nations to determine their own laws, which virtually nullified it.
India supported the amendment and Joshi told the committee: “Every State has the sovereign right to determine its own legal system and appropriate legal penalties.”
The amendment passed by a vote of 76 to 72 with 26 abstentions. However, it did not mollify India, which voted against the amended resolution.
Explaining New Delhi’s position on capital punishment, Joshi said, “In India, the death penalty is exercised in the ‘rarest of rare’ cases, where the crime committed is so heinous as to shock the conscience of society.”
In the last 12 years only three executions – all of them of terrorists – have been carried out in the nation of 1.2 billion.
Last year Yakub Memon, who financed the 1993 Mumbai bombings, was executed. Muhammad Afzal, convicted of plotting the 2001 attack on India’s Parliament, was hanged in 2013 and Mohammad Ajmal Amir Qasab, one of the terrorists involved in the 2008 Mumbai attack was executed in 2012.
An independent judiciary hears the cases where death penalty can be imposed and appeals are permitted at several levels, Joshi said. Moreover, the Supreme Court has decreed that “poverty, socio-economic, psychic compulsions, undeserved adversities in life” should be considered as mitigating factors in imposing the death penalty, he added.
The amendment about the sovereign right of nations to have their own legal systems was introduced by Singapore. Its delegate said that the original resolution was one-sided and tried to impose the values of one group of countries upon others.
New Zealand, echoing the sentiments of several other countries, said that sovereignty did not absolve nations from complying with international norms of human rights and the death penalty violated it.
The United States also opposed the resolution saying that capital punishment was legal under international law and dealing with it was a domestic matter.