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U.S., Japan urged to end executions

STRASBOURG, France -- The United States and Japan should end executions "without delay," a Council of Europe panel has urged.

The U.S. and Japan enjoy "observer" status on the Strasbourg, France-based Council, which is unrelated to the European Union and whose 1952 European Convention of Human Rights is binding on all council members.

A report on Wednesday to the body's parliamentary assembly, by its human rights panel, suggested the countries may risk losing their observer status unless they take prompt action to repeal the death penalty.

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The report, prepared by Renate Wohlwend, a Christian Democrat from Liechtenstein, found Japan and the United States to be in violation of their obligations under a council resolution pertaining to observer states.

Under Statutory Resolution 26, observers must "accept the principles of democracy, the rule of law and the enjoyment by all persons within its jurisdiction of human rights and fundamental freedoms."

The report set a January 1, 2003 deadline for Japan and the United States to demonstrate they are moving towards about scrapping a practice that has been non-existent in the council's 43 member states since Ukraine staged its last execution in May 1997.

The report called on the countries to "institute without delay a moratorium on executions …and to improve immediately conditions on death row."

The report marked the latest setback to U.S. clout in the international arena.

In may, the United States was voted out of two major United Nations bodies -- The U.N. Commission on Human Rights and the U.N. International Drug Control Board.

The loss of its seat on the human rights panel, after a half-century tenure, came as an especially harsh blow to the U.S., which had used the position to target alleged human rights abuses in countries such as Cuba and China.

Some observers believed the ouster was in retaliation for President George W. Bush's rejection of the landmark Kyoto environmental treaty, aimed at reducing greenhouse gases that are a major cause of global warming.

Many European nations are also riled by Bush's plans to pursue a national missile defence program that opponents -- led by Russia and China -- say could spark a renewed arms race.

The United States, Japan and Canada have sat as observer members on the Council of Europe since 1996.

In her report, Wohlwend said she is not attempting to call into question Japan or the United States' observer status at this point.

Rather, she expressed hope that the countries may be persuaded to implement a moratorium on executions through intensive dialogue with the Council.

The report states, however that the parliamentary assembly should "call into question the continuing observer status of Japan and the United States of America with the organisation as a whole, should no significant progress in the implementation of this Resolution be made before January 1, 2003.







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