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India votes against UNGA resolution on death penalty

November 25, 2014 14:56 IST

India has voted against a UN General Assembly draft resolution calling for moratorium on the use of death penalty, saying it fails to recognise each nation's "sovereign right" to determine its legal system and punish criminals according to its laws.

The draft resolution on 'Moratorium on the use of the death penalty' was approved last week in the General Assembly's Third Committee, which deals with social, humanitarian and cultural issues.

India was among the 36 nations that voted against the resolution, which got 114 votes in favour and 34 abstentions.

By the terms of the resolution, the General Assembly would urge Member States to progressively restrict the use of the death penalty and not impose capital punishment for offences committed by persons below 18 years of age, on pregnant women and on persons with mental or intellectual disabilities.

In its explanation of vote, India said the resolution seeks to promote a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.

India voted against the resolution as it goes "against our statutory law, First Secretary in the Indian Mission to the UN Mayank Joshi said.

"The resolution fails to recognise the basic principle that each State has the sovereign right to determine its legal system and to punish criminals as per its laws," he said.

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."

He said Indian law provides for all requisite procedural safeguards, including the right to a fair hearing by an independent court, the presumption of innocence, the minimum guarantees for the defence and the right to review by a higher court.

India reiterated that its laws have specific provisions for suspension of the death penalty in the case of pregnant women and has rulings that prohibited executions of persons with mental or intellectual disabilities, while juvenile offenders cannot be sentenced to death under any circumstances.

Joshi added that death sentences in India must also be confirmed by a superior court and an accused has the right to appeal to a High Court or the Supreme Court.

Human rights groups have criticised India's use of death penalty and have repeatedly asked India to end the "distressing" use of executions and move towards abolishing the death penalty.

Last year, India executed Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru just three months after it hanged the lone surviving 26/11 terrorist Ajmal Kasab in a Pune jail.

In September last year, four men were sentenced to death for raping and murdering a young woman in New Delhi in December 2012, a tragedy that sparked wide-spread protests and anger across the country and united its citizens in seeking justice for the  student, who died in a Singapore hospital.

A related draft amendment tabled in the third committee was rejected by a vote of 55 in favour, 85 against, with 22 abstentions.

By that text, the General Assembly would reaffirm the sovereign right of all countries to develop their own legal systems, including determining appropriate legal penalties, in accordance with their international law obligations.

India voted in favour of the amendment.

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