[JURIST] UN Under-Secretary-General Sergei Ordzhonikidze [official profile] on Wednesday praised the increasing number of countries [text] that have suspended or abolished the death penalty [JURIST news archive]. Speaking at the 4th World Congress Against the Death Penalty [FIDH backgrounder] in Geneva, Ordzhonikidze expressed hope [UN News Centre report] that countries that have not abolished the death penalty would adopt the 2007 UN Resolution 62/149 [text], placing a moratorium on the use of the death penalty. Ordzhonikidze urged pragmatism, stating:
We must not lose sight of the fact that abolishing the death penalty is a difficult and sensitive process for many societies. That is something we understand at the United Nations. Moving this process forward will require comprehensive and inclusive national debates. It is my hope that the discussions at this World Congress, which will highlight the practical experiences of countries that have either abolished the death penalty or instituted a moratorium, can help to stimulate such national debates.
The congress, which opened Wednesday [press release] is organized by Contre la Peine de Mort [advocacy website, in French] in partnership with the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty [advocacy website] and is scheduled to last through Friday.
Earlier this month, the Supreme People's Court of China [official website, in Chinese] issued new guidelines [JURIST report] for limiting capital punishment in Chinese courts, relying on a policy of "justice tempered with mercy." In January, Mongolian President Elbegdorj Tsakhia announced that he would suspend the death penalty [JURIST report] and commute the sentences of all prisoners currently on death row to 30 years in prison. In November, the Russian Constitutional Court [official website, in Russian] extended [JURIST report] a moratorium on the death penalty until the country's parliament ratifies an international treaty abolishing capital punishment. In July, Hands Off Cain [advocacy website], an anti-death penalty advocacy group, reported [JURIST report] that the number of countries with capital punishment, as well as the total number of executions was down in 2008 from the previous year. According to Amnesty International, 95 countries have abolished [AI report] the death penalty for all crimes. In March, New Mexico became the latest US state to abolish the death penalty [JURIST report].