Amnesty International is lashing out at theCanadian government's decision not to co-sponsor a United Nations resolution calling for aworldwide moratorium on the death penalty.

The Conservatives said Tuesday that Canada will vote in favour of the resolution when it is brought forward in the General Assembly in December, but will not join the 74 countries who have agreed to sponsor it.

"There are a sufficient number of co-sponsors already, and we will focus our efforts on co-sponsoring other resolutions within the UN system which are more in need of our support," Catherine Gagnaire, a spokeswoman forCanada's Foreign Affairs Department, said.

Alex Neve, the secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, said Canada istaking a step backwards with itsdecision, becoming nothing more than an "active bystander" in the global death on capital punishment.

"The fact that Canada has in the past been the leader and has chosen now not to provide the leadership this year will be noticed by other governments," Neve said. "The does not communicate a very strong message."

Amnesty International, whichworks to defend human rights around the world,has sent a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper condemning Canada's decision.

The letter notes that Canadahas traditionally beena strong opponent of capital punishment, co-sponsoring several death penalty resolutions thatwere adopted by theUN Human Right Commission in the past decade.

As well, the letter notes that Canada has made a practice of refusing to extradite people to countries where they would face the death penalty, and that Canada has traditionally sought clemency for Canadians facing the death penalty in the United States, although this last practicehas recently changed.

Canada abolished capital punishment from the Criminal Code in 1976, afterhanging its last two inmatesin Toronto onDec. 11,1962.

Canada won't seek clemency for Alberta man

Neve said Canada's decision not to sponsor the UN resolution is especially worrisome in light of the Canadian government's recent decision not to seek clemency for an Albertaman facing the death penalty in the United States.

On Nov. 1, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said he wouldn't ask American authorities to hand over Ronald Allen Smith, who has been on death row in Montana for more than 20 years. Smith faces lethal injection for murdering two men in 1982 during a road trip in the United States. He is the only Canadian on death row in the U.S.

The United Nations General Assembly adopted resolutions on capital punishment in 1971 and 1977, proclaiming thatitis desirable that the death penalty be abolished in all countries, according to Amnesty International.

Amnesty notes that 130 out of 192 UN member states have already abolished capital punishmentin law or practice, and only 25 countries carried out executions in 2006.

With files from the Canadian Press