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 and a constituent member of the Transnational Radical Party.
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 vengeance.
The death 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. 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.In 2007 and 2008, the United Nations General Assembly approved a Resolution for a moratorium on executions. Later it was decided to discuss and vote on the resolution every two years and, in 2010 and 2012, the text has been approved by an increasing number of votes in favor (111 in 2012).
The Death Penalty Worldwide: Hands Off Cain’s annual Report on the death penalty, published since 1997, gives a comprehensive overview of news, political and juridical developments, statistics and studies on the death penalty issue. This report has been an invaluable tool for activists working everywhere in the world for a new human right: not to be killed following a judicial measure or legal sentence.
After the historical vote at the UNGA, Hands off Cain focused mainly in Africa, where, since 2007, Rwanda, Burundi, Gabon, Togo and Benin 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.
The most relevant initiative in Africa has been the conference organized by Hands off Cain in partnership with the Government of Rwanda – in the framework of a project supported by the EU Commission – in October 2011 in Kigali. The conference on the death penalty was attended by representatives of 20 African countries (from south, central and east of the continent) who took great inspiration by the case of the abolition of the death penalty in Rwanda.
Some of these (Central African Republic, Chad, Sierra Leone, Tunisia) have been the main target-countries of the Hands off Cain lobbying activity, carried out in 2012 with the financial support of the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs, for the successful additional support to the new Resolution on moratorium on executions that was approved by the UNGA on December 20th, 2012 with the record number of 111 countries who voted in favor (+3 with respect to resolution 2010), 41 against (as in 2010), 34 abstentions (+ 2) and 7 absent at the time of the vote (as in 2010).
Hands off Cain aims to continue to support those African countries who moved towards a vote in favour of the pro-moratorium resolution.