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New York, 21.09.2016 - Speech by the Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter at the 71st session of the UN General Assembly (The Death Penalty and Victims Event) - Check against delivery

Speaker: Didier Burkhalter; Burkhalter Didier

Ladies and gentlemen

To paraphrase recent comments made by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, capital punishment is an attempt to provide a simple solution to a complex problem.

In addition to the ethical issues – which for Switzerland and many other countries clearly rule out the death penalty as a punishment from a bygone era – states must ask themselves if this practice actually gives them what they are looking for: a simple and effective response to an important problem affecting our society.

Numerous scientific studies show that there is no correlation between capital punishment and a low crime rate. In fact there is no simple answer to dealing with a problem as complex as crime. We have talked about this in the past. We can demonstrate that the death penalty is not an effective weapon to prevent or combat any type of crime, whether theft, drug trafficking, murder or acts of terrorism.

We must also acknowledge that capital punishment only appears to be a 'simple' solution.  The publication presented today by the High Commissioner for Human Rights underlines how the death penalty actually creates many additional problems. Important problems.

Governments must take note of these clear findings.

- Victims of capital crimes and their families do not see an improvement in their lives after the condemned person has been executed. Whether or not applying the death penalty has given them a real sense of redress is also seriously questionable. It is at best a painful, life-long vengeance. The victims remain victims, and nothing in the system helps them to move beyond this.

But capital punishment even creates more victims.

- People wrongly sentenced to death are also clearly victims, a fate we should find unacceptable because they are being deprived of the most cherished thing of all, and the most valuable of all rights: the right to life. And all based on an error!
- And what about the families, particularly the children of people that have been sentenced to death? The destiny that awaits them should also make us stop and think, for they will have to carry the burden of the act committed by their parent – a burden that can be extremely heavy to bear. This is just the first of their ordeals. They will also have to endure the fact that their loved one was snatched away. This is a second ordeal. And if their parent is a victim of a miscarriage of justice and is actually innocent, we inflict yet a third ordeal on them – to lose a loved one needlessly.

A child whose mother or father has been sentenced to death is another innocent victim.  A victim created by the same punishment that seeks to improve society.

It is troubling indeed to hear a child, anticipating the grief that awaits when their father is executed, say: "When they kill my father, it’s me they will have killed."
- Capital punishment also gives rise to other, more indirect victims that have been talked about very little such as the people working in the justice system and prisons who have to judge, accompany and execute the condemned. These people have to live with this responsibility and, potentially, the burden of having made a mistake.

The death penalty only appears to be a 'simple' solution. In reality its final and brutal nature brings us face to face with far-reaching and challenging questions.

The publication launched today deals with these very questions. I am delighted that we are able to hold this discussion and advance the debate with this publication and the testimonies of our panellists today.

Not only is capital punishment inconsistent with the basic values that join us here together at the United Nations – values of peace, human rights, and justice – it does not make the world safer from crime, drugs and terrorism.

In fact not only does the death penalty fail to ease the suffering of the victims, it actually creates even more, adding yet more violence and suffering.

Before the end of this year, the United Nations General Assembly will debate over a resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty. We are committed to convince more states through these debates, these studies and these publications to rally collectively for this cause.

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