The 9th anniversary of the World Day Against the Death Penalty (October 11) brought human rights activists, lawyers and at least one former world leader to Geneva to strengthen the effort to ban the final punishment that continues in 58 countries around the world.

The event also marked the transfer of the ICDP (International Commission Against the Death Penalty) from Madrid to Geneva in order to work more closely with various UN organizations that are involved in death penalty issues and to lobby the UN Human Rights Council.

Established in 2010 by the Spanish government, the ICDP has received strong support from Switzerland where the move was welcomed by Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey who said the commission will be integrated into the Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights.

The primary goal of the ICDP is to get a universal moratorium on the death penalty by 2015, one of the objectives of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG). 

Although the majority of countries still imposing the death penalty are authoritarian regimes such as China, Saudi Arabia and Iran and Belarus, the practice continues in two democracies: Japan and the United States.

Belarus was singled out by the European Union and the Council of Europe as the only European country where the death penalty is still applies. There were two executions in Belarus this year, according to Amnesty International for a total of between 14 and 19 in 2011 so far. Abolition of the penalty is a prerequisite for partnership with Europe and a seat in the Council of Europe. But President Alexander Lukashenko maintains that the penalty reflects a 1996 referendum in which 80% of voters supported continuing the punishment.

And it may be difficult to persuade Belarus in the face of the US stand on capital punishment which was reinstated as recently as 1976 and where last month the state of Georgia executed Troy Davis despite significant doubts about his guilt and where three more men were later executed by Texas, Alabama and Florida, with little public outcry.