Links between death penalty and mental health exposed from Japan to Nigeria
On 10 October, representatives from the World Coalition and its member organisations featured widely in the media to denounce the links between the death penalty and mental ill health. “In Japan, a person who had spent 50 years on death row has just been released and will have a new trial because they were found to be mentally ill,” said the World Coalition’s executive director, Maria Donatelli, in an interview with the international news channel France 24.
To find out more about this issue, watch World Coalition president Florence Bellivier’s explanations below.
World Coalition member organisations highlighted the plight of people with mental illnesses or intellectual disabilities facing the death penalty in their country. In Lagos, a press release issued by HURILAWS detailed how “Nigeria has applied the death penalty for more than 50 years with no serious attention paid to mental health”.
“Instances abound everyday in Nigeria where accused persons with serious mental health problems are put on trial without adequate support where they are unable to participate effectively in their own defence,” HURILAWS added, citing high-profile cases.
Medics, too, took a stance. The International Council of Nurses expressed its deep concern at the lack of adequate care and support for people with mental disorders and issued a reminder that ethics rules prevent nurses from taking part in executions. The president of the World Medical Association drew attention to the World Day at the organisation’s annual general meeting, which took place on the same day. On that occasion, he highlighted the Declaration of Tokyo, which prevents medics from taking part in cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
Richard Branson, Ban Ki-moon and Ai Weiwei relay World Day messages
Leading figures on the international politics, business and arts scenes endorsed the World Day.
Richard Branson, the founder of the media and transportation group Virgin, called on governments to follow the World Coalition’s recommendations on the protection of people with mental illnesses and disabilities at risk of execution. “We should all strive to end the death penalty for good. But on the road to universal abolition, we must do all we can to protect those that are most at risk of being innocently convicted,” Branson wrote on his blog.
On the occasion of an event on “Justice that Kills: The Death Penalty in the 21st Century” organised by the European Union and Italy at the UN in Geneva, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon issued a message of support for the World Day, calling on world leaders to establish a moratorium on executions and ratify the UN Protocol on the abolition of the death penalty.
“We want to bring this Protocol to life,” Florence Bellivier told a ceremony organised in Geneva by CCPR Center and the World Coalition to mark the 25th anniversary of this treaty, which outlaws the death penalty in the countries that ratify it. She highlighted the importance of the Protocol as a tool to move the abolitionist cause forward internationally and called on civil society, international organisations and governments to use it more often.
Foreign ministers from 12 from countries with and without capital punishment released a joint declaration calling for a world that “respects human dignity” on World Day Against the Death Penalty.
On social networks, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, France’s former Justice Minister Robert Badinter and countless members of the British Foreign Service took part in the #nodeathpenalty campaign, in which web users use selfies to tell the world why they oppose capital punishment.
Regional conference in Tunis
Abolitionists from North Africa and the Middle East celebrated the World Day early with a regional conference organised by World Coalition members, the Tunisian Coalition Against the Death Penalty and ECPM, in Tunis on 26 and 27 September.
In their final declaration, the participants stated that “the right to life is the first of all rights and transcends all others” and called for it to be included more prominently in legal training in the region. They also welcomed the votes of Algeria and Tunisia in favour of a universal moratorium on executions at the UN General Assembly and called on all States in the region to vote the same way in a new vote scheduled later in 2014.
While highlighting the difficulties linked to terrorism, the conservatism of some religious leaders and political inertia, the region’s abolitionists committed to continue working together and with larger sections of society. “The abolitionist struggle remains too elitist and too urban-centred,” said Habib Marsit, who chairs the Tunisian Coalition Against the Death Penalty. “We need to disseminate abolitionist culture and values.”
In addition to the #nodeathpenalty campaign on social networks, several initiatives launched in connection with the World Day are continuing through October. Check out the schedule of events to find out more.
Photo, top: World Day conference organised by World Coalition member organisation CRSJS in India