EU diplomats team up with US activists to co-ordinate efforts against the death penalty
On November 19, top diplomats from about 20 European countries met representatives from key anti-death penalty organisations in the US as well as criminal defence lawyers at the French embassy in Washington, DC.
The French embassy’s Senior Counsellor Laurent Delahousse set up the meeting on behalf of the French presidency of the European Union to hear US death penalty abolition leaders address EU members about how they can more effectively support US abolition efforts.
“They gave us advice and comments on which we reported to Paris and to the EU”, Laurent Delahousse said. “Those organisations told us not to address the death penalty as a moral issue in the US. We know we have no right to say that what the US is doing is evil. International law, where we have legitimate grounds for intervention, is a better avenue.”
Such meetings are a regular feature of European diplomacy in the US and each country holding the six-month rotating presidency of the EU maintains discreet contacts with leading abolitionist organisations there.
This time, the French embassy brought in new organisations such as World Coalition member Murder Victim’s Families for Human Rights. Its executive director, Renny Cushing, took part in the meeting with Elizabeth Zitrin, who represents Death Penalty Focus on the World Coalition’s steering committee.
Letters to US State Governors and Parole Boards
Elizabeth Zitrin introduced the participants to the World Coalition’s plans to focus on education in 2009 and on the US in 2010. “I said that our EU partners are our bridges to peer-to-peer conversations among victims’ families, police, lawyers, judges and doctors, as well as grassroots activists and, of course, business leaders”, she added.
Other panelists included Richard Dieter, of the Death Penalty Information Center, Sue Gunawarenda-Vaughn of Amnesty International USA, Carol Chodroff of Human Rights Watch, Virginia Sloan of the Constitution Project and famed activist and actor Mike Farrell, President of Death Penalty Focus.
The EU Presidency has written a number of letters to US State Governors and Parole Boards to encourage commutation of sentences or other means to remove prisoners from imminent threat of execution. European diplomats are interested in coordination with US NGOs working on this issue to improve the impact of their work.
For example, the French presidency of the EU lobbied hard for death row inmate Troy Davis, focusing on the possibility that an innocent may be executed. “International action helped his lawyers and his family a lot”, said Laurent Delahousse. “In an unusual move, we wrote to the Department of Justice. I would like to believe that our intervention at the federal level helped.”
Representatives of the next four EU presidencies were present and agreed to continue co-operating with US NGOs. They consider organising a formal annual conference on the death penalty.