The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe decided on 26 September 2007, to declare a ''European Day against the Death Penalty,'' which is held annually on 10 October. The Council of Europe has been a pioneer in the abolition process which has made Europe a de facto death-penalty-free zone since 1997. The day is a European contribution to the World Day against the Death Penalty, which is held annually on the same day.

2023 edition
Joint statement by Council of Europe Secretary General and the High Representative, on behalf of the European Union
European and World Day against the Death Penalty, 10 October

On the occasion of the European and World Day against the Death Penalty, the European Union (EU) and the Council of Europe strongly reaffirm their unequivocal opposition to the death penalty, including any reintroduction of it, in all cases and in all circumstances.

The death penalty is an inhuman and degrading punishment, representing the ultimate denial of human dignity. It fails to act as a deterrent to crime and capital punishment makes miscarriages of justice irreversible.

The world continues to move away from the death penalty, with more than two thirds of the world’s countries having abolished capital punishment in either law or practice. We congratulate Zambia and Ghana for joining the worldwide abolitionist movement in the last year. We also welcome the record number of 125 votes in favour of the UN General Assembly resolution calling for a global moratorium on the use of the death penalty with a view towards its ultimate abolition. We call on those States, which still carry out death sentences to introduce a moratorium as a first step towards abolition.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the entry into force of Protocol No. 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), concerning the abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances. So far, 44 Member States of the Council of Europe have ratified it. We commend them for it as we welcome the ratification of Protocol No. 13 by the National Assembly of Armenia and its signature by Azerbaijan. We encourage both member states to swiftly complete the ratification process.

Belarus is the only country that still applies the death penalty in Europe. The EU and the Council of Europe deplore Belarus’ second extension of capital punishment in less than a year, this time to civil servants and military personnel for the crime of high treason. In China, it is estimated that the number of death sentences imposed and executions carried out remained in the thousands last year, although the figures remain a state secret. In the rest of the world, countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia have increased the number of executions. These countries, as well as other states such as Singapore, continue to disregard international human rights law by applying the death penalty in drug related cases, or even in cases where citizens express their opinions on social media or in the streets. The use of this inhuman punishment should be abandoned. We also regret that executions continued to be carried out in 2022 and 2023 in the United States.

We call on all retentionist States to promote an open and democratic debate towards the abolition of the death penalty. With this in mind, States should improve transparency and access to accurate information on death penalty procedure, policy, and practice. The occasional return of narratives on the reintroduction of the death penalty should be a push for a larger engagement with civil society and reinforcing the promotion of the abolitionist cause amongst young people. The governments of all abolitionist countries should send a clear message that the capital punishment will not mark any return in their domestic penal systems.

The EU and the Council of Europe will continue to forcefully advocate against the death penalty, including as a penalty for blasphemy, apostasy or consensual same-sex relationships.

Civil society remains at the forefront of the global fight against the death penalty. The EU and the Council of Europe will continue to strengthen partnerships with the aim of achieving this goal in law and in practice. On this important day, we salute all those lawyers, human rights defenders, academics, politicians and individuals who continue to work tirelessly for human dignity, human rights and to put an end to death penalty once and for all.

Council of Europe Strasbourg 9 October 2023
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