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Bringing An End to the Death Penalty
Lauren Vater

The death penalty was not something that occupied a lot of my thoughts while growing up in rural Wisconsin.  It wasn't until I was older and learning more about my faith that I realized exactly what the death penalty meant.  The death penalty, carried out in the name of the nation’s entire population, involves everyone. Everyone should be aware of what the death penalty is, how it is used, how it affects them, and how it violates fundamental human rights.  I believe we are moving closer to this awareness as more and more countries have abolished this brutal act.

What amazes me is why many governments still support the death penalty.  Is it used equally?  Is it really the best way to solve social and political problems?  Is every person executed truly guilty? Think about all the discussion that takes place here in the USA over this issue. It is an international problem as well.   I find hope in all the efforts put forth by civil society to try to persuade the governments worldwide to abolish the death penalty.

In working with the Dominican Sisters, I was introduced to the Dominican Call to Justice document.  The Dominicans’ work towards social justice includes a desire to create a culture of peace.  The Dominican Call to Justice states that "Everyone is created in the image of God, and our respect for all life is at the root of opposition to the death penalty."  One of the ways Dominicans have pledged to participate in the activism surrounding the death penalty is in the campaign For Whom the Bells Toll, a national initiative to have religious organizations throughout the country toll their bells whenever there is an execution.  This movement has reached congregations in all 50 states and in several countries.

Another impressive action towards ending capital punishment has been taken during my brief tenure at the United Nations.  In early November, a delegation led by the Community of Sant'Egidio and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, delivered a petition to the President of the General Assembly of the United Nations.  It was signed by 5 million people from 154 countries calling for an end to capital punishment.   Because of this petition, 99 countries voted to adopt a resolution calling for a global moratorium on executions. 

The General Assembly is expected to endorse the decision in a plenary session in December.  Although this decision does not change whether or not a country uses the death penalty, it is a strong stance to show that the majority of the world does not believe it should be in existence.  A total of 133 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, including more than 50 that changed their policies since 1990.  Sixty-four other countries and territories continue to retain the death penalty, including the United States.

Keep in mind that the President of the United States can direct his or her representative at the United Nations to sign on or not sign on to a UN resolution. The death penalty is one stark example of the frequent disconnect between the agenda of the United States and the work for human rights at the United Nations.

I have to believe there is hope that the remaining 64 countries will be influenced by civil society.  There is power in the voice of the people.  Just last week, the state of New Jersey abolished the death penalty and other states are reconsidering their statutes. If we, as Americans, continue to spread awareness and convert others to see the brutality of the death penalty, there is a chance of changing our country’s laws.  And where the United States leads, many tend to follow.

Lauren Vater, Dominican Volunteer

Lauren Vater
Dominican Volunteer Lauren Vater

Dominican Leadership Conference

Building relationships and collaborating in the mission of preaching the Gospel
29000 West Eleven Mile Road
Farmington Hills MI 48336
248-536-3234 Contact: Executive Director