Hands Off Cain is a league of citizens and parliamentarians for the
abolition of the death penalty worldwide. It was founded in Brussels in 1993.
Hands Off Cain (HOC) is a non-profit organisation, constituent member of the
Nonviolent, Transnational and Transparty Radical Party (and NGO with first
degree at the ECOSOC) and recognised in 2005 by the Italian Minister for
The name “Hands Off Cain” is inspired by the Genesis. The first book of the Bible includes not only the
phrase “an eye for an eye” but also “And the Lord set a sign for Cain, lest any
finding him should smite him”. Hands off Cain stands for justice without
penalty is not an issue of religious belief. The Koran and the Bible should not be used to justify it and do not mark a dividing line
between retentionists and abolitionists. In fact, not all Islamic countries
practice capital punishment whilst a number of Christian countries do. The
problem is the literal translation of centuries-old text into present-day penal
norms, punishments and rules for political ends.
98% of the total executions worldwide are carried out in illiberal
countries such as China, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Hands Off Cain
believes the definitive solution to the death penalty problem is to be found in
these countries, and more than the death penalty itself, concerns democracy,
the Rule of Law and human rights. It is true that the affirmation of democracy
does not, in itself, signify abolition, as the United States exemplifies. It is
equally true that only in a democratic system can abolition be conceived of and
stand the test of time. Dictators can decree abolition overnight, and equally
swiftly re-establish the death penalty.
A UN moratorium on executions is our main goal, for which parliaments, governments and public opinions worldwide have been
mobilized. The abolition of the death penalty cannot be imposed by decree. The
moratorium can be viewed as a meeting point between abolitionists and
retentionists. It allows retentionist states to take a step towards abolition,
and the abolitionists to help spare the lives of thousands of people. History
has shown that after one, two or three years of moratorium it is difficult for
a state to resume executions and the move often paves the way for complete
abolition. This is what took place in many states of the former Soviet Union,
in former Yugoslavia, and in South Africa.
The UN moratorium campaign was launched in Italy on Hand
Off Cain’s urging. In 1994 a resolution for a moratorium was presented for the
first time at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) by the Italian
government. It lost by eight votes. Since 1997, through Italy’s initiative, and
since 1999 through the EU’s endeavour, the United Nations Commission on Human
Rights (UNCHR) has been approving a resolution calling for a moratorium on
executions with a view to completely abolishing the death penalty, every year.
The Resolution for the Universal Moratorium on Executions was approved by the
General Assembly of the United Nations for the first time in December 2007.
This first approval was a milestone on the path not only of the death penalty,
but also the development of human rights in general. Since then, the actual
effects of the UN Resolution continued to manifest in many countries.
The path of dialogue, liberal and anti-prohibitionist, of the moratorium - and not the outright abolition of the death penalty - which since 1993
Hands Off Cain and the Nonviolent Radical Party, Transnational and Transparty
have chosen to propose in all international fora, has proved to be the main way
to overcome seeming insurmountable obstacles, and open doors otherwise
On 19 December 2016, the General Assembly
of the United Nations advanced again its call to end the use of the death
penalty with the passage of a new Resolution calling on States to establish
a moratorium on executions, with a view to abolishing the practice. It was the sixth
such text adopted since 2007.
The new Resolution was adopted by a number of 117 votes in favour, 40 votes against, 38, with 31 abstentions and 5 absent during the vote.
Hand off Cain will continue to
walk the path of the moratorium with a series of initiatives to strengthen the text and to increase the support for the resolution
within the UN in view of the forthcoming vote expected in 2018 and to give
practical effect to its contents.
As for the strengthening of the text, Hands off Cain asks to abolish the "state secrets" on
the death penalty, because many countries, mostly authoritarian, do not
provide information on its application, and the lack of public information it
is also a direct cause of a greater number of executions. To this end, it
establish the figure of a Special Envoy with the task not only to monitor
the situation and to demand greater transparency in the capital punishment
system, but also to continue to persuade those that still practice to adopt the
pro moratorium line established by the United Nations.
As for the increase in the support
for the resolution within the UN and the
concrete implementation of its content, it will also be promote missions, starting from Africa, to persuade more countries to
vote in favor of the resolution for the "moratorium on executions , in
view of the final abolition of the death penalty" as well as to implement
their content. After the historical vote at the UNGA, Hands off Cain
focused mainly in Africa, where, since 2007, Rwanda, Burundi, Gabon, Togo,
Benin and Guinea have completely eliminated the death penalty, and especially
in the first two countries, the abolition took on an extraordinary symbolic, as
well as legal and political, value, as they are countries where, the endless
cycle of vengeance and the eternal drama of Cain and Abel was played out most
truly and tragically.
Considering fundamental the objective of information
and awareness on the issue, Hands
off Cain publishes the Annual Report on
the Death Penalty Worldwide. The report shows, country by country, news
reports, political and legal facts, statistics and comparative studies from
different angles on the issue of the death penalty, and realizes the electronic newsletter (daily and
weekly). Both fundamental tools for those who, in the world, are engaged in the
fight for the affirmation of a new human right: not to be killed following a
sentence or judicial measure.
The Annual Report is dedicated every year to the person, who, above all others, has demonstrated an
extraordinary commitment in the struggle for a moratorium on executions and the
during a ceremony organized in Rome.
Among the goals is also the containment of the death penalty in time of war against terrorism
with the campaign "State of emergency? Rule of Law!", all the more necessary and urgent as a
result of the reactions that are coming in terms of state of emergency and the
fight against terrorism with the tragic use of the death penalty.
As part of a project supported by the European Union for the 2017-2020 triennium, the
association is committed to conducting training and information actions in
three African countries, Egypt, Somalia and Tunisia, with the aim of spreading the knowledge of those
instruments of international law that contribute to contain the use of the
death penalty in time of terrorism.
Hands off Cain, after confirming its goals even with
the VI Congress held in the Opera prison in Milan on 18 and 19 December 2015,
will re-launch, within the project "Spes contra Spem", for the overcoming
of the so-called ergastolo ostativo (life without parole) and art. 41-bis
(solitary confinement in the Italian prison system). These are the same
goals that Pope Francis has made clear in his speech of extraordinarily
humanistic, political and legal value, addressed the delegates of the
International Criminal Law and in which, among other things, has called for
life imprisonment as "a sentence of masked death ", which should be abolished
along with the death penalty, and considered the isolation in the so-called
"maximum security prisons" as "a form of torture."