EU brushes off Polish call to bring back death penalty

The European Commission has rebuffed a call by the Polish president for an EU-wide debate on reinstating the death penalty. “The death penalty is not compatible with European values,” a commission spokesman said in Brussels.

Polish president Lech Kaczynski argued last Friday that “countries that give up this penalty award an unimaginable advantage to the criminal over his victim, the advantage of life over death.”

“I think that over time Europe will change its view in this regard,” he told Polish public radio. The rightist Law and Justice party, led by twin brothers Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, won elections last September, with Lech becoming Polish president and Jaroslaw taking over as prime minister in July.

In the meantime, the League of Polish Families, a nationalist minority party in Poland’s governing coalition, launched a campaign for a partial restoration of the death penalty.

“We want to collect half-a-million signatures of EU citizens on a petition demanding the death penalty for pedophile murderers,” the vice-president of the party, Wojciech Wierzejski, said according to press reports. The League has been criticized by the European Parliament, which said in a June resolution that it was to blame for a rise in xenophobia in Poland. It said that the League’s leaders “incite people to hatred and violence.”

The abolition of the death penalty is part of the human rights criteria of EU membership. Most western European countries abandoned the death penalty in the 1960’s, while central and eastern European states did so in the 1990’s. Poland abolished capital punishment in 1997, following a nine-year moratorium on executions imposed in 1988.

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