By Alessandro Speciale
Pope Benedict XVI expressed his support this week for efforts by the Rome-based Community of Sant’Egidio to abolish the death penalty worldwide.
“I express my hope that your deliberations will encourage the political and legislative initiatives being promoted in a growing number of countries to eliminate the death penalty,” the pontiff said in English during his weekly audience on November 30.
He added that he hoped the group would “continue the substantive progress made in conforming penal law both to the human dignity of prisoners and the effective maintenance of public order.”
Sant’Egidio this week hosted an event in Rome that brought together justice ministers and government officials from countries that have abolished the death penalty, together with witnesses, former death row inmates and relatives of crime victims.
The group has campaigned for decades against capital punishment, calling on governments and international institutions to abolish or suspend all executions.
The United Nations General Assembly voted in favor of a moratorium on the death penalty in 2007.
“Asia is the continent where the death penalty is most present,” said Stefano Argentino of Sant’Egidio, but he added that the latest ‘good news’ for the campaign came from Mongolia.
After Mongolia’s President Tsakhia Elbegdorj commuted all capital sentences to 30-year jail terms in January 2010, the government is now set to adopt a UN protocol binding it to abolish the death penalty.
The Philippines, Cambodia, Timor L’Este, Nepal and Bhutan, along with the Central Asian ex-Soviet republics, are the only countries in Asia who do not have the death penalty.
China is reported to carry out the most capital punishments of any country in the world, while Iran has the highest number of executions to population ratio.
Other Asian countries, including Afghanistan, South Korea, India, Indonesia, Laos, the Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Thailand, have suspended capital punishment while still handing down death sentence verdicts.