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US faces European ban over death penalty

By CHRIS WHITE, United Press International

BRUSSELS, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- The United States faces possible exclusion from the Council of Europe, where it enjoys observer status, over its continued use of the death penalty, a council spokeswoman said Friday.

The comments follow a decision of the council's Committee of Ministers on Thursday to ban the death penalty in all circumstances, including for crimes committed during war and the imminent threat of war.

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"You know what Europe thinks of America," council spokeswoman Henriette Girard told United Press International. "It may now be a case of expelling the United States from its observer status. This is being looked at."

The Council of Europe, comprised of 43 member countries from the European continent and five observer countries, is the first organization to have drawn up a legal text on the abolition of the death penalty, which allows no exception. It already was a de facto rule and no executions have taken place in member countries since March 1997.

The latest initiative, adding a protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, was promoted by Sweden in 2000, well before last September's terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Called Protocol 13, the ban is to be presented for signature by members at the next session of the Committee of Ministers, the Council's decision-making body.

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In a statement Thursday from its headquarters in Strasbourg, France, the council said adoption of the protocol "is a strong political signal the death penalty is unacceptable in all circumstances."

Protocol 13 leaves America increasingly isolated on its use of the death penalty for domestic criminal cases and deepens a growing split between Europe and America over the detainees taken in the wake of the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan to a U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Lawyers are pushing for the release of two Britons, Asif Iqbal, 20, and Shafiq Rasul, 24, whose families have filed papers claiming they are innocent of terrorist activities.

Three other Britons also are held at the camp, where they face the prospect of a death penalty if convicted by a military tribunal. They would not face death in Britain or other Council of Europe countries.

Other countries holding council observer status are Canada, Japan, Mexico and the Vatican. Girard told UPI none of the other observer nations presents a problem to the council over the use of the death penalty.

The Council of Europe, established in 1949, describes itself as "the guardian of democratic security, founded on human rights, democracy and the rule of law."

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While 40 members of the council have abolished the death penalty, three -- Armenia, the Russian Federation and Turkey -- have established moratoria on its use. They have been "invited to speed up moves toward abolition," according to a council statement.

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