Europe launches diplomatic offensive against the death penalty
On October 10, the European Union 27-state bloc and the Council of Europe (47 states) signed a joint declaration confirming their commitment to continue to work towards the universal abolition of the death penalty.
The presidents of the European Parliament, of the Council and of the European Commission, on the EU side, and the president of the Parliamentary Assembly, the chairman of the Committee of Ministers and the secretary general of the Council of Europe took part in the ceremony.
European Commissioner for freedom, justice and security Jacques Barrot (pictured here on the right with European Parliament president Hans-Gert Pöttering) said: “Europe has created a “de facto” death penalty-free zone stretching from Iceland in the west to Vladivostok in the east and from Norway in the north to the south-east of Turkey – this is one of Europe’s greatest achievements.” He insisted that further efforts are necessary, adding: “This is the reason the European Commission works side by side with NGOs that are active in this field and supports abolitionist actions.”
Terry Davis, secretary general of the Council of Europe, remarked that all the organisation’s member states have abolished the death penalty, except Russia which has implemented a moratorium. He added: “Two of our observer states – Canada and Mexico – have also abolished the death penalty. The other two – Japan and the USA – continue to execute people. The European Day against the Death Penalty is an opportunity to remind them that they are out of step with rest of the democratic and civilised world.”
“A challenge” for Lebanon
In the Lebanon, Patrick Laurent, head of the Delegation of the European Commission, wrote a column in several newspapers, including the English-speaking Daily Star. He explained that the EU was “the world’s leading donor” to abolitionist projects. He welcomed the moratorium in place in Lebanon, but regretted that death sentences were handed down in the country in 2008.
The death penalty is progressively being abolished worldwide, most recently by Albania, Argentina, Rwanda, Uzbekistan, and the US state of New Jersey. We hope that in a near future Lebanon will join them by ditching its moratorium in favor of a permanent revocation of the death penalty, with the support of the Lebanese people,” he concluded.
On the same day, Lebanese Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar announced that he would send a bill removing the death penalty from the country’s criminal law to Parliament “as soon as possible”.
In Uganda, EU Ambassador Vicent De Vischer also encouraged the authorities to abolish capital punishment. He was speaking at the lauch of a book entitled Abolition of the death penalty, organised by the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, a World Coalition member organisation.
Appeal in Le Monde
In France, Hélène Flautre, who chairs the European Parliament’s sub-commission on human rights, joined other parliamentarians and activists in co-signing a column by Paris Bar Association President Christian Charrière-Bournazel headlined “Appeal for Troy Davis and all the others…“ and published in Le Monde newspaper.
The text uses the example of US death row inmate Troy Davis to highlight the unbearable character of the death penalty in the face of possible miscarriages of justice. “It is the honour of a great country to accept the idea that mistakes can be made. It is also an honour to make sure that no innocent person can be unjustly punished”, it read.
Staying in France, Junior Minister for Human Rights Rama Yade welcomed the global trend towards abolition, remarking that four countries have abolished the death penalty since October 10, 2007. “France is determined to make that process irreversible”, she said.
Malta’s foreign affairs minister, Tonio Borg, pointed out that the World and European Days Against the Death Penalty came just before the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes the right to life. “This anniversary should inspire us to do all we can to achieve the global abolition of capital punishment,” he said.