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, recognised in 2005 by the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs.
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, 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 inaccessible.
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.
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 requests the Secretary General to 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 abolition of the death penalty. This person is personally awarded with “The Abolitionist of the Year” Award 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."