11th Aug 2022

Latvian death penalty debate rumbles on

The head of the Latvian parliament's human rights committee has called for an EU-wide debate on reinstating the death penalty, as a new capital punishment debate has emerged in the country following the murder of a young girl.

"There is no death penalty in the EU but this is hypocrisy. Everyday unborn children are killed. Soldiers kill. The biggest religions in the world - Christianity, Judaism, Islam - allow the use of the death penalty in the case of certain crimes," Janis Smits told Polish daily Rzeczpospolita on Thursday (24 September).

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The MP - a Christian right-winger who in the past attracted Council of Europe criticism for taking part in anti-gay protests - is the latest in a line of high profile politicians to call for the reinstatement of capital punishment.

Earlier this month, Latvian justice minister Gaidis Berzins said on national radio that some crimes "require renewed debate on the suitability of not having capital punishment."

Interior minister Mareks Seglins speaking on national TV indicated he would support a Latvian referendum on bringing back the ultimate sanction.

The debate began following the brutal murder of an 11-year old Latvian girl on 27 August, whose father slit her throat while she slept.

Latvia abolished the death penalty in times of peace in 1999 as part of its preparation for EU entry, with abolition a key accession requirement. But it has still not ratified protocol 13 of the European Convention of Human Rights, meaning it is theoretically legal to execute people in times of war.

The death penalty debate is also alive in Poland, where the former conservative government last year tried - but failed - to block EU efforts to launch a "European Day Against the Death Penalty."

In June this year, the 27 EU foreign ministers restated EU "guidelines" on the death penalty, saying in formal conclusions:

"The council recalls the opposition of the European Union to the death penalty in all cases and in all circumstances. The abolition of the death penalty contributes to the enhancement of human dignity and the progressive development of human rights."

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