World Forum an opportunity to gather abolitionists


on 4 July 2008

The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty held its annual general meeting in Nantes, France on June 30 as part of the World Forum on Human Rights.
The event – one of the few opportunities for international abolitionists to meet face to face – gathered Coalition members from all over the world.
The afternoon session was opened to other participants in the World Forum. More than 80 people came to listen to presentations and take part in debates on the evolution of the abolitionist struggle at the global level.
A passionate discussion took place on the issue of corporate responsibility: should abolitionist organisations lobby for the inclusion of death penalty use in the criteria used by large corporations when they choose locations for their investment projects?

Corporate social responsibility:  a risky business

According to Elizabeth Zitrin, an American lawyer and activist with Death Penalty Focus, “money can be a motivator where morality fails”. She cited the example of the apartheid regime in South Africa, where campaigners convinced corporations to stay away from the country.
US law professor and National Association of Criminal Defence Lawyers member Speedy Rice argued that the business community sometimes holds more power than governments and should be included in the struggle against the death penalty. In his opinion, a campaign on socially responsible investment could be useful towards European companies investing in the US.
However, Piers Bannister, a death penalty expert at Amnesty International’s international secretariat, warned about the possible waste of resources in a campaign that could be misunderstood. “Someone can interpret your message as: ‘You’ve touched the death penalty, you’re not worthy of a job.’ The second you say that, they are hostile to you and will not listen to arguments against the death penalty”, he said.
A small group of members have decided to investigate this issue further to see if the World Coalition should take action in the area of corporate social responsibility.

In another discussion on the role of local authorities in the fight for abolition, former Tuscany region president Angelo Passaleva detailed the scope of activities a local authority can undertake against the death penalty, particularly towards young people. In a single project conducted in Tuscany, 6,000 students have seen the travelling show Not in my name across the region.
Mario Marazziti, spokesman for the Community of Sant’Egidio, told the assembly of the global Cities for Life-Cities Against the Death Penalty event, which brings together hundreds of cities through special illuminations of their monuments on November 30 every year. He pointed out that when an abolitionist event is organised by a local authority, “you immediately become part of it, you can feel it”.
Several World Coalition members also took advantage of the general meeting to present their activities and their projects. Among them, Carmelo Campos Cruz of the Puerto Rican Coalition Against the Death Penalty detailed plans to bring together Caribbean abolitionists into a regional coalition. The Carribean Abolitionist Network should be up and running within two years.

World news trickled in as Mostapha Znaidi of the Moroccan Coalition Against the Death Penalty denounced the “incoherence” between government announcements and actual progress on the death penalty in his country.
Renny Cushing of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights gave some “good news” from the US as the number of death sentences is going down there. He also said that opinion studies carried out by his organisation show the importance of offering “alternatives” to the death penalty rather than just “abolition” to gather support among American citizens.
In a closing speech, Jacques Auxiette, president of the Pays de la Loire regional council, which hosted the Forum, reminded that changing attitudes towards the death penalty is a long-drawn-out and permanent job. He recalled that Robert Badinter was very unpopular back in the 1980s when, then minister for justice of France, he passed the abolition bill. He is now a renowned and respected figure, praised internationally for this achievement.

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