Every few year since 2007, the United Nations General Assembly votes on a resolution to impose a global moratorium on the death penalty. Like all General Assembly resolutions, it has no force of law per se, but it is an important symbolic gesture of global opinion.

Yesterday’s vote, which took place in the Third Committee of the General Assembly passed by 107 votes in favor, 38 against with 36 abstentions.  This represents a much wider margin of victory over the first vote in 2007, which was 104 votes in favor, 54 against and 29 abstentions.  Amnesty reports: “Bhutan, Kiribati, Maldives, Mongolia and Togo changed their vote to back the moratorium. In a further sign of support, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Solomon Islands and Thailand moved from opposition to abstention.”

The trend is very clearly toward a wider and wider recognition that the death penalty is abhorrent to human rights.   According to Amnesty International when the UN was founded in 1945 only eight states had abolished the death penalty for all crimes. Today, 136 out of the 192 UN member states have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

So it is disappointing –though not all together unsurprising — to see the United States joining forces with such bastions of human rights as Egypt and Myanmar to vote against the moratorium.  And if you have any doubts about whether or not the death penalty should be so enthusiastically applied here in the USA, do some research into the case of Cameron Todd Willingham.

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