A European Union decision to declare today European Day Against the Death Penalty was blocked by Poland.

The Polish government insisted that the day also include condemnations of abortion and euthanasia and used its veto to stop the declaration.

However, the Council of Europe does not need a unanimous vote on such matters, and it has declared today European Day Against the Death Penalty.

It is also World Day against Death Penalty.

The present Polish government’s social conservatism and the strong influence of the Roman Catholic Church in the counrty has led to clashes with the EU over gay rights.

Pride marches have been banned and the country’s President has said that gay rights could bring about the end of civilisation.

The government retreated from proposals to ban gay people from teaching and other jobs with children amid protests from other EU member states.

The 47-member Council of Europe predates the EU.

It promotes and protects democracy, educational and sporting co-operation and created the European Court of Human Rights.

The council also produces agreements on legal co-operation through conventions and other treaties, including conventions on terrorism, corruption, organised crime and bioethics.

The Council of Europe is the only region of the world which is free from the death penalty as all its members have either abolished the death penalty or instituted a moratorium on executions.

Belarus (outside the CoE) is the only country in Europe that still has the death penalty actively on its books, though the Polish President called for its reintroduction earlier this year.

“I call upon EU member states to not flinch in the face of unacceptable Polish opposition to Europe marking this Day against the Death Penalty,” said Michael Cashman MEP, President of the Intergroup on Gay and Lesbian Rights in the European Parliament.

“It is unfortunate that a country which should be teaching the rest of the world about human rights, about the dignity of life, remains so resolutely against any progress on these issues.

“I am saddened by the attitude of the Polish Government who insists on enforcing personal views not representative of the ordinary and decent Polish citizen.”

The death penalty is still carried out in other regions outside Europe and in seven countries the death penalty is applied for consensual sexual acts between adults of the same sex.

These countries are Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, Mauritania, United Arab Emirates and parts of Nigeria.

“The death penalty is a barbaric practice that all too often is used to persecute minorities,” said Mr Cashman.

“Our brothers and sisters, in particular in Iran, but also in many other countries of the world, still face the death penalty for simply being who they are.

“They not only face the possibility of it, in Iran, we have aware of numerous cases where the death penalty has been applied.”

The International Gay and Lesbian Association welcomed and encouraged the debate on the complete abolition of the death penalty.

Philipp Braun, Co-Secretary General of ILGA, said:

“The value and dignity of every human being is the centre of the universal human rights philosophy. Each person is unique and entitled to the most precious right guaranteed by Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the right to life.

“Sentencing people to death for love and/or affection towards persons of the same sex is even more barbaric and draconian.

“ILGA calls on the seven countries which kill people simply because they fall in love with persons of the same sex to immediately revise their laws and to abolish the death penalty for consensual acts between adults of the same sex.

“We urge the United Nations to use all its powers and authority to uphold the value and dignity of each and every individual,” he added.

“ILGA welcomes the fact that the UN Human Rights Commission in 2003 and 2004 already voted as part of its resolution “on the question of the death penalty” to condemn the death penalty for non-violent acts such as sex between consenting adults.”