European officials warn Poland against introducing death penalty

European officials said Monday that Poland would be in clear breach of its international commitments if the winners of this weekend's parliamentary elections were to reintroduce the death penalty. Senior members of the Council of Europe, the continent's top human rights watchdog, said Poland's membership would be jeopardized. An official at the European Commission said such a step would violate the EU's charter of fundamental rights.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the Law and Justice Party which won weekend parliamentary elections, and his brother Lech, the Warsaw mayor vying for the presidency next month, have long spoken out in support of the death penalty as a way of fighting corruption and crime, according to the AP.

Last year, the Law and Justice party _ then in opposition _ tabled a motion in parliament for the death penalty to be restored following a series of murders, but narrowly lost in a vote.

The issue did not emerge as a major theme of this election campaign, though, and neither has said they would seek to change the law once in office.

Gross was referring to the European Convention on Human Rights, an international human rights treaty binding on all Council of Europe members. The body was founded in 1949 and associates the EU's 25 nations and all but one of the continent's non-EU countries.

Poland, which joined the EU on May 1, 2004, eliminated the death penalty in 1997 while moving to adopt the bloc's standards. For many years prior to that, the death penalty though formally part of the Polish penal code was not actually used.

Abolition of the death penalty is one of the cornerstones of the Convention and a key condition of membership of the Council of Europe.

The European Commission in Brussels also said advocating the death penalty goes against fundamental values shared by all European countries.

Russia, the only European country that has not formally abolished capital punishment, imposed a moratorium on it in 1996. Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Kolesnikov this year proposed lifting the moratorium for those convicted of organizing and carrying out terrorist acts, drawing strong criticism from the Council of Europe. About seventy countries worldwide still carry out the death penalty, according to the French group ECPME, or "Together Against the Death Penalty." The United States and Japan are the only two democracies that still carry out executions.

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