Campaigners and political leaders unite against the death penalty
The 4th World Congress Against the Death Penalty opened Wednesday in Geneva, Switzerland. Early this morning, a crowd of politicians, lawyers, campaigners and journalists overran the fortress of the Palais des Nations, soon to be joined by representatives of United Nations member states. Long-time defenders of the abolition of the death penalty were there including the Congress’ host country Switzerland, Italy, France, Norway, Spain. Representatives of some retentionist countries including Belarus – the only remaining country in the Council of Europe to carry out executions – Vietnam, Mongolia and Qatar were also present. After the opening speech by Sergei Ordzhonikidze, Director-General, United Nations Office at Geneva, Raphaël Chenuil, Director-General ECPM thanked the Congress’ numerous partners, starting with the Swiss Confederation and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty.
Watch video extracts from the opening session:
Speaking on behalf of the World Coalition, Elizabeth Zitrin of Death Penalty Focus reminded the participants that “the World Coalition was born out of the 1st World Congress Against the Death Penalty. ECPM lit the fire of both the Congress and the Coalition, and the flame has been tended by many.”
She gave a concrete example of cross-border co-operation, describing how World Coalition members rallied to support her organisation in a public debate on death penalty regulations in California. “As the letter from our member in Togo, which had abolished the death penalty just a few days before, was read in French in the capital of California, I cried, and I knew that our friends were with us, and I knew that the world was watching,” she said.
The speeches given by politicians, including the Ministers for Foreign Affairs from Argentina, Italy, Luxembourg and Benin, surprised the audience by their forthrightness: each one proclaimed his attachment to the abolition of the death penalty with fervor, faith and conviction.
“Switzerland has banned the death penalty because this punishment has no place in human society today”, hammered home Pascale Bruderer, President, National Council (Parliament) of Switzerland.
The speeches were often passionate, often moving or even provocative like that of Bianca Jagger, Council of Europe Ambassador. She described the horrors of executions and pointed out the United States’ guilt in this regard. Use of the death penalty is unworthy of a democracy, she affirmed before a room that included Americans (often campaigners).
Zapatero, Diouf and Badinter among the campaigners
José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, head of the Spanish government which currently holds the European Union presidency, arrived at the end of the first session to much acclaim. He was seated beside Abdou Diouf, former President of Senegal and current General Secretary of La Francophonie, and Robert Badinter, former French Minister for Justice.
Mr Badinter opened the second part of the ceremony, devoted to advocacy. “I want to tell you all so that there’s no room for doubt: it’s a congress for all campaigners, however high placed they are,” he stated, turning towards Diouf and Zapatero. The contributions of his two neighbours confirmed this assertion.
Zapatero explained: “At the present time, more than two thirds of UN member countries have abolished the death penalty in law…. Spain and the Spaniards are fully committed to this fight against the death penalty. Today is a new phase in that fight with the creation of a commission dedicated to its abolition. The commission will include people of high moral standing and from all regions of the world”.
Click here to download Elizabeth Zitrin’s address to the opening ceremony of the World Congress on behalf of the World Coalition