WASHINGTON — The European Union renewed its call Friday for the abolition of the death penalty in the United States.
“For the EU, it’s a matter of principle,” said John Bruton, former Irish prime minister and the EU ambassador to the United States.
Bruton and Swedish Ambassador Jonas Hafstrom issued the call for abolition on the eve of World Day Against the Death Penalty, established in 2002.
“The EU believes that the elimination of the death penalty is fundamental to the enhancement of human dignity and to the progressive development of human rights,” Hafstrom said on behalf of the 27-member political union.
European countries have lobbied the federal and state governments in recent decades to end the death penalty.
Hafstrom said he raised concerns about executions in Texas with Gov. Rick Perry when he recently visited the state.
“Gov. Perry is well-informed about the EU position on the matter,” Hafstrom said.
Bruton and Hafstrom said recent death-row exonerations have shown that the risk of a wrongful execution remains possible.
Bruton cited the case of Michael Toney, a Texas native recently cleared of murder charges after prosecutors admitted they’d withheld key documents during his trial.
Toney was released just over a month ago after nearly a decade on death row, then died in a car wreck last week.
The EU said it was helping foes of capital punishment in the U.S. by filing friend-of-the-court briefs in appellate courts hearing death penalty appeals. The EU also has funded studies by the American Bar Association to investigate the fairness of specific death penalty cases.
The bar group also has called for a moratorium on the death penalty in the U.S.
Texas leads the U.S. in the number of executions with 441 since 1976 and about 370 prisoners still on death row. Virginia is second with 103 prisoners executed since 1976.
One hundred thirty-nine countries have abolished the death penalty, while 25 others carried out executions in 2008.
According to the human rights group Amnesty International, 93 percent of executions last year took place in five nations: China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United States.