INTERVENTION BY THE HOLY SEE
ON THE OCCASION OF THE 28th SESSION OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL
AT THE BIENNIAL HIGH-LEVEL PANEL ON "THE QUESTION OF THE DEATH PENALTY"
STATEMENT BY HIS EXCELLENCY SILVANO M. TOMASI
PERMANENT OBSERVER OF THE HOLY SEE
TO THE UNITED NATIONS AND OTHER INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS IN GENEVA
Wednesday, 4 March 2015
The Delegation of the Holy See is pleased to take part in this first biennial
high-level panel discussion on the question of the death penalty and joins an
increasing number of States in supporting the fifth UN General Assembly
resolution calling for a global moratorium on the use of the death penalty.
Public opinion and support of the various provisions aimed at abolishing the
death penalty, or suspending its application, is growing. This provides a strong
momentum which this Delegation hopes will encourage States still applying the
death penalty to move in the direction of its abolition.
The position of the Holy See on this issue has been more clearly articulated in
the past decades. In fact, twenty years ago, the issue was framed within the
proper ethical context of defending the inviolable dignity of the human person
and the role of the legitimate authority to defend in a just manner the common
good of society. Considering the
practical circumstances found in most States, as a result of steady improvements
in the organization of the penal system, it appears evident nowadays that means
other than the death penalty “… are sufficient to defend human lives against an
aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons.”
For that reason, “public authority must limit itself to such means, because
they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are
more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.”
Political and legislative initiatives being promoted in a growing number of
countries to eliminate the death penalty and to continue the substantive
progress made in conforming penal law both to the human dignity of prisoners and
the effective maintenance of public order are moving in the right direction.
Pope Francis has further emphasized that the legislative and judicial practice
of the State authority must always be guided by the “primacy of human life and
the dignity of the human person.” He noted as well “the possibility of judicial
error and the use made by totalitarian and dictatorial regimes… as a means of
suppressing political dissidence or of persecuting religious and cultural
Thus, respect for the dignity of every human person and the common good are the
two pillars on which the position of the Holy See has developed. These
principles converge with a similar development in international human rights law
and jurisprudence. Moreover, we should take into account that no clear positive
effect of deterrence results from the application of the death penalty and that
the irreversibility of this punishment does not allow for eventual corrections
in the case of wrongful convictions.
My Delegation contends that bloodless means of defending the common good and
upholding justice are possible, and calls on States to adapt their penal system
to demonstrate their adhesion to a more humane form of punishment. As for those
countries that claim it is not yet feasible to relinquish this practice, my
Delegation encourages them to strive to become capable of doing so.
In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, the Holy See Delegation fully supports the efforts
to abolish the use of the death penalty. In order to arrive at this desired
goal, these steps need to be taken: 1) to sustain the social reforms that would
enable society to implement the abolition of the death penalty; 2) to improve
prison conditions, to ensure respect for the human dignity of the people
deprived of their freedom.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae
, 25 March 1995, n. 56.
Cf., Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, 30 November 2011.
Pope Francis, Address to the Delegates of the International Association
of Penal Law, 23 October 2015, nos. I and IIb.