Spot opportunities and focus on education, abolitionists are told

World Congress

on 24 February 2010

Lin Hsinyi, the executive director of the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (TAEDP), described how her group was formed in 2003 to seize an opportunity offered by Taiwan’s authorities. “In April 2000, President Chen Shui-bian announced that Taiwan was going to take action on the abolition of the death penalty. In May 2001, Justice Minister Chen Ding-nan further announced that Taiwan would end capital punishment within three years,” she recalled.

Within months, NGOs, activists, lawyers, professors, students and journalists had joined forces to hold the politicians to their word and their struggle continues to this day. They formed links with international networks of activists and foreign governments.An activist from Ghana summed up Lin’s point as “identifying opportunities”.  “For example, now we are having a constitutional review in Ghana. This is an opportunity,” he said.TAEDP’s strategy for the near future is to focus on promoting alternatives to the death penalty,  reducing the number of death penalty provisions and exploring the abolition of capital punishment through constitutional interpretation.
The right person to deliver the message
Piers Bannister of Amnesty International warned the participants against the common flaws to abolitionist strategies, mentioning the need for realistic budgeting and insisting on the importance of finding the right person to deliver the message. Referring to his work in Jamaica, he said: “As a white, middle-class person from the former colonial power, maybe I wasn’t the best person to bring the message.” When he brought in African-American activists and South African archbishop Desmond Tutu for a radio interview, his campaign gathered steam.Toshi Kamaza, a photographer working on death penalty issues and  a victim of attempted murder himself, insisted that image could play a big part in showing people the ugly face of the death penalty and winning them over to the abolitionist side. “Even when support the death penalty, they’ll think twice,” he said.
“You need a strategy on education”
The discussion with the audience turned to the importance of education in abolitionist strategies.  Philip Iya, a law professor from South Africa wrapped in a woolen coat and scarf against the Swiss cold, said: “People are very ignorant of international instruments, even national instruments. You need a strategy on education.”Lin agreed and said that education should not only target the general public, but also decision-makers such as members of parliament. Bannister cited a prominent lawmaker in the US state of Illinois, who did not know the death penalty was abolished in Europe. “She thought the rest of the world was merrily executing away,” he said. “Then she realized she was in a minority.” “It’s always satisfying to convince one football stadium full of people, but it’s better to convince a single powerful politician,” he concluded.
Worshop on wednesday february 24Defining strategies for abolition.

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