“It’s in Africa that we find the strongest dynamics towards abolition”
“It’s in Africa that we find the strongest dynamics towards abolition”
By these words, Namizata Sangare, National Commission of Human Right’s president in Côte d’Ivoire, justify the holding of the third regional Congress in Africa.
Africa « next abolitionist continent »
This Congress offers opportunity for the civil society and different international and regional abolitionist actors to sensitize and request African countries on the death penalty issue, especially for moratorium (17) and retentionist countries.
This Congress was a federative event, and, while it served as a reminder of the universal will to abolish the death penalty, it did not fail to mention the context in which the issue is evolving, here, in Africa.
As part of the round tables and the various panels that were proposed, regional issues emerged, and the relevance of the speaker’s comments was highly appreciated. One of the most successful roundtables was on the death penalty as a colonial legacy. This question was raised in the historical context of Africa and its speakers were able to establish an interesting dialogue by offering everyone the free interpretation of the arguments that were used.
As part of the Congress, the presence of retentionist countries or in a moratorium situation was important. Several countries made commitments to abolition at the solemn opening ceremony.
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Minister of Human Rights has offered a voice for abolition by saying she hopes to be able to speak of abolition in her country in the coming years. Mr Djimet Arabi, Chad’s Minister of Justice for Human Rights, said that his country would soon abolish the death penalty for all crimes: “Chad can not remain on the side-lines of abolition. It is inevitable that Chad will one day abolish the death penalty, even for terrorism.” Burkina Faso was not left behind with Mr Bessolé René Bagoro Minister of Justice: “My country is ready for abolition, parliament must now play its role”.
Greater than expected mobilization
Beyond the geographical and historical reasons that Africa represents for the establishment of such a Congress, African civil society also represents a significant factor in the struggle for abolition.
The organizing association of the Congress, Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort (ECPM) had established several participants around 200 to 300, however from the day one this figure was actually closer to 350-400 people. On the second day this figure decreased slightly. Such an event has attracted crowds, which represents for civil society, organizers and co-organizers a positive feedback on the work they do upstream.
According to Namizata Sangare, “Ivorian public opinion is not in favour of the death penalty”. Côte d’Ivoire is an abolitionist country since 2000, but it has not yet ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which will serve as a deadlock for abolition in the country. Therefore, the support of the population in the fight for abolition is important, particularly to raise awareness among the competent authorities and enable organizations to rely on public opinion in their advocacy.
The Congress also provided a link between the two World Days in 2017, on the death penalty and poverty, and 2018, on death row’s conditions. The Plenary of the Congress played this role and aimed to link these two World Days, even if it focused mainly on poverty, and less on conditions of detention. Thus, World Day 2018 will be an opportunity to educate and inform more fully on the subject.
As part of this Congress, African culture was very present, colours, fabrics and music played their role to make this Congress festive. On the cultural evening on Tuesday, April 10th the reggae singer Kajeem came to give a concert against the death penalty. The evening was very successful and lively thanks to the rhythm of Kajeem, his musicians and enthusiastic participants. As part of his songs, Kajeem was able to put forward one of the objectives of abolitionist civil society, to educate young people in this fight. Throughout the Congress, young people were put forward and actively participated through different directions, either to continue the fight, or to act and advance abolition in their own countries, especially with a workshop devoted to youth mobilization and good practices for abolition.
A proactive civil society
This Congress also enabled the various NGOs and abolitionist associations to meet up.
Thus, a capitalisation workshop on the abolitionist movement in Africa was held on Monday, April, 9th. It was a workshop organised by the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty and the International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (FIACAT) to discuss the project for the abolition of the death penalty in Africa, which was set up in 2015 and is nearing its end. The objective of this workshop was to meet all the members who participated in this project and to work together on the methods, means and activities used to improve the continuity of the project.
Different working groups have been set up depending on the geographical areas and the situation of the country regarding the death penalty, which has made it better to work specifically on identical issues that are well known to the members. Each one, rich of his personal experience within his country, could bring his feelings and give recommendations for the continuation.
This Congress was an opportunity to take stock of the real impact of civil society in the various African countries: it is committed to defending the fight for abolition and is very active despite the difficulties.
In addition to these meetings, one of the highlights of this Congress was the meeting with people freed from death row. Their testimonies are edifying, it not only gives meaning to the abolitionist struggle, but even more it humanizes the struggle.
Both at the level of civil society and at the political level, these testimonies have once again made it possible to understand and confirm the real issue of abolition.
The Regional Congress a real soft law instrument
On the closing ceremony, Ms Seynabou Benga took the floor and reminded the various debates during the congress and the commitments made.
The final declaration, read by Ms Jacqueline Moudeina, a lawyer from Chad, perfectly summarizes the achievements of this congress and the road that remains to be travelled to achieve abolition in the region. It enables organizations in the field to remind these countries, through their advocacy, of the commitments they have made.
Their statements, although they do not represent any official character, are an opening to abolition on which civil society actors can rely.
Aurélie Plaçais, director of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, said in an interview with ECPM, “In ten years, I think that nearly all of sub-Saharan Africa will have abolished the death penalty”. Let us hope that the Regional Congress is only the beginning of an intergenerational and consensual gathering for the abolition of the death penalty in this continent.
Picture: ©Christophe Meireis.