The European Union is the leading institutional actor and largest donor in the fight against death penalty worldwide.
EU Policy on death penalty
The EU holds a strong and principled position against the death penalty in all circumstances and for all cases, in accordance with the EU Strategic Framework and its related Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy. The universal abolition of the death penalty is one of the key priorities of its Human Rights external policy, and such commitment is outlined in the EU Guidelines on Death Penalty which were the first human rights guidelines ever adopted by the Council of the European Union in 1998, subsequently updated in 2001, 2008 and 2013.
Capital punishment is inhumane, degrading and unnecessary. As a matter of fact, there is no valid scientific evidence to support that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other punishments. Furthermore, any miscarriage of justice, which is a possibility in any judiciary no matter how advanced it is, could lead to the intentional killing of an innocent person by state authorities.
In its work towards abolition, the EU uses all its available tools of diplomacy (including statements, individual and general demarches, and human rights dialogues with third countries) and development cooperation to serve this objective. The EU can, in some countries, call for the establishment of a moratorium (the temporary suspension of executions, and more rarely of death sentences), seen as a positive first step before abolition. In countries where the death penalty is still in use, the EU can call for its use to be progressively restricted and for it to be carried out according to international minimum standards that inter alia prohibit execution of persons below 18 years of age at the time of the crime, of pregnant women or new mothers, or on mentally disabled persons (in line with ECOSOC resolution 1984/50 of 25 May 1984 on the Safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty).
The EU is also the first regional body to have adopted in 2005 rules prohibiting the trade in goods used for capital punishment (and torture and ill-treatment), as well as the supply of technical assistance related to such goods. The lists of prohibited and controlled goods are set out in Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 775/2014 and were amended by Regulation (EU) 2016/2134 of the European Parliament and of the Council.
EU funding to the abolition of death penalty
The political commitment of the EU in the fight against death penalty worldwide is complemented by European Commission's funding allocated to civil society organisations, in particular through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR). This support given to civil society organisations in countries where the death penalty has not been abolished yet targets, inter alia, awareness raising through public education, campaigning, training programs for legal professionals, monitoring and documenting respect for minimum standards, support to legal reforms to abolish the death penalty, establish a moratorium or restrict its use.
From 2008 to 2016, the EIDHR has allocated more than €22 million to projects supporting the fight against death penalty around the world.