The Italian Government this week formally petitioned the United Nations Security Council to initiate a process for an international moratorium on the death penalty, just days after Church and political leaders here resoundingly condemned the execution of the former Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein.

Italy, one of the rotating members of the Council, has already gained the support of Germany – which has just taken over the European Union presidency – and is looking for unanimous backing from all 27 EU members. Italy lobbied unsuccessfully for the moratorium in 1994 and 1999, when some 97 countries allowed the death penalty. Today it is legal in only 54 states – China, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United States among them.

The Italian initiative for a worldwide ban on capital punishment was applauded by several church groups, most notably the Sant’ Egidio Community, which has long been pushing for such a moratorium. The Vatican did not comment directly on Italy’s UN campaign, but following the execution of Saddam Hussein on 30 December, it was unequivocal in its denunciation of the death penalty.

“A capital execution is always tragic news and a reason for sadness,” said the director of the Holy See press office, Fr Federico Lombardi, the morning after the former Iraqi leader was put to death, adding “even when dealing with a person guilty of serious crimes”.

The head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Renato Martino, said the hanging was “an error, in the same way it was an error not to turn [Saddam’s] trial over to the International Criminal Court”. He insinuated that those responsible for killing the former Iraqi dictator were criminals. “The death penalty when it is not necessary is a crime, and in this case it was not necessary,” he said, citing the Church’s Catechism.

More and Source