“Ending the death penalty in Lebanon and worldwide”
Over 75 people attended a conference entitled “Ending the Death Penalty in Lebanon and Worldwide: Legal and Social Perspectives” at Beyrouth’s Institut Supérieur de La Sagesse pour l’Enseignement du Droit (ISSED) on October 17.
There were some 30-40 students, and 20 teachers from La Sagesse and other universities, as well as the Archbishop of Beirt and several significant judges. The panel was presided over by the Dean of the Faculty of Law, and included Ms. Ogarite Younan, a Lebanese activist and Mr. Speedy Rice, American activist.
Dr. Maroun Boustany, Dean of the Faculty of Law said that opponents to the death penalty (DP) around the world are increasing. This punishment is cruel, irreversible, irrational and not deterrent. It allows the community to kill in order to stop the individual.
Mr. Speedy Rice focused on the international campaign to submit to the UN General Assembly a resolution for an international moratorium on DP. He also considered DP as against human rights, and exposed the American experience in combating DP.
He also highlighted the cases of Cambodia and Rwanda, where incredible atrocities took place, but they still cancelled the DP for all crimes.
Some 20 years ago, only 16 countries had abolished the DP; today the number has increased to 60.
The legacy of the Tabarja case
As to Ms. Ogarit Younan, she focused on the National Coalition against DP in Lebanon, established in 1998, subsequently to the Tabarja case. There were street demonstrations in support of the families of victims, but also against the death penalty.
The coalition counted then 60 organizations, parties and movements. It resulted in amending Article 302 of the Penal Code which imposed the DP without any mitigating circumstances (the killer shall be killed).
The judge who presided over that particular case was attending the session. Judge Hatem Madi shared with the audience the “weight” imposed on his conscience because of that case.
He confessed that article 302 robbed him of his authority as a judge to consider mitigating circumstances; that there was also political intervention in the case and a presidential will to carry out a death sentence. He said that it was his last death sentence, after which, along with another colleague, counselor Rustom Awad, they signed a petition against the DP.
Article 302 has been changed and all DP sentences are automatically transferred to the court of differentiation.
Are some criminals unreformable?
A law professor teaching at the Military Academy, Isaam Mubarak, intervened at that point; he confessed having attended the burials of 11 of his students (privates, officers), some of whom were decapitated, their eyes removed, etc. (He used accurate description of gruesome acts of violence) pursuant to the events of Nahr El Bared.
He doubted that these “people” could ever be reformed, and he refused the thought of them confined to “rosy detention cells”. His intervention was warmly applauded by students and a large number of attendees.
“No pious person can accept to kill”
At this point, Ms. Younan intervened saying that one cannot justify the use of violence to deter criminals – and thus commit the same violence that they committed.
She added that any pious or devout person cannot accept to kill another person.
She disclosed that the Coalition worked on a comparative study of all DP sentences in Lebanon since the independence to this date: 52 people have been executed and 42 are waiting in Roumieh for their sentences to be carried out. She also informed the audience that an Arab Alliance against the Death Penalty has been approved finally in Morocco.
An issue of political will
Former French Minister of Justice, Me. Robert Badinter, in a phone interview, shared France’s experience in DP. He believes that it is not an issue of a public opinion whose majority supports the DP; rather, it is an issue of a political will.
The Italian Minister of Justice spoke briefly about the UN General Assembly resolution on a Moratorium on DP.
Judge Hatem Madi spoke once more and asked 2 questions to abolitionists:
What would you say to the parents of the victims?
What do you think of an activist against the Death Penalty for political reasons?
Finally, a priest spoke and said that Jesus was sentenced to death for a culture of love. He also said that instead of abolishing the DP immediately, one could develop virtues in human beings, and hence attack the causes of hatred.