Hope resonates globally on World Day against the Death Penalty

World Day

By Nicolas Chua, on 25 October 2018

This year’s theme was as mysterious to the general public as it is poignant: although death penalty cases are often featured in the media, living conditions on death row are rarely spoken of, and for those who saw the death penalty as a quick and easy solution against the most heinous crimes in their opinion, the realization that people on death row prisoners are subjected to cruel and degrading treatment as well as intense psychological torment may change their views, even if it is just a little.
The German Coalition against the Death Penalty recently published artwork by people on death row, and Abdorrahman Boroumand Center released a collection of stories from death row, a punishment that “doesn’t end at the gallows” – regardless of whether you are against the death penalty or not, these stories, and all of the events that took place on World Day, are undeniable testimonies to the unspeakable horrors of death row.


Asia undoubtedly stepped into the limelight with Malaysia’s sudden announcement of a bill to abolish the death penalty, which has already been tabled at Parliament on October 15: this move is sure to have repercussions on Malaysia’s retentionist neighbors such as Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore.

On the other hand, Taiwan having recently resumed executions, the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty actively commemorated this year’s World Day, organizing a commemoration event, a symposium at the National Taiwan University and an open forum featuring Saul Lehrfreund from Death Penalty Project and Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer.

In Pakistan, ”No Time to Sleep”, a 24-hour theater performance that was broadcast online for the world to see, received extensive media coverage, and was a resounding success: co-sponsored by Justice Project Pakistan, the play focused on the last 24 hours of ‘Prisoner Z’, showing the world the torment one goes through when waiting for one’s death.


Member organization Journey of Hope…From Violence to Healing went on a speaker’s tour around the Ugandan capital, visiting schools, appearing on local radio/TV shows and giving talks at the Ugandan Parliament and Makerere University. Journey of Hope also met with fellow World Coalition member Foundation for Human Rights Initiative at their commemoration event at Human Rights House in Nsambya: in cooperation with the EU, the latter also recorded songs written and performed by prisoners and released them on the radio and online for the world to enjoy.

The MRU Youth Parliament in Sierra Leone visited the female correctional facility to document the detention experiences they face, and a two-day training session for lawyers was held in Lagos, organized by the Cornell Center and Avocats Sans Frontières. Also, a commemorative event was held at the University of Liberia, organized by the EU delegation to Liberia as well as ACAT, which featured students from the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law partaking in public debates.

Niger’s civil society was particularly active this year, a symposium by the Nigerien abolitionist movement, composed of the Nigerien Coalition against the Death Penalty (CONICOPEM), the National Union of Training and Education Officers (SYNAFEN), ACAT Niger (Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture) and the NGO REPRODEVH-Niger brought together teachers, researchers, students, magistrates and human rights specialist to discuss living conditions of those sentenced to life imprisonment, as well as to support the draft Additional Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the abolition of the Death Penalty in Africa. Also high school students in Maradi held a public reading of Victor Hugo’s “Last Day of a Convicted Man” and university students in Niamey organized a public debate and conference at the University of Niamey (featuring slam poet Althess for an artistic expression of our abolitionist views).


The MENA region was also home to a lot of events this year: in Lebanon, for instance, Association Justice & Mercy organized a Sports & Arts competition at the Roumieh Prison, temporarily relieving the prisoners of the pain they are inflicted with while on death row. The Moroccan Coalition against the Death Penalty held a press conference and sit-in in front of Parliament, and in Palestine, a sit-in took place in Ramallah. A report was published by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies on military executions, and several other events also took place in Tunisia, Algeria and Bahrain.

However, in light of the gravity of the situation, the Iranian civil society was arguably the most active in the region: 3 political prisoners detained in the women’s ward of Evin prison sent an open letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran. Furthermore, 2,320 prisoners currently on death row in Iran signed a joint statement calling for the end of executions in Iran and denouncing their instrumentalization by the state. Radio France International also featured Mahmood Aliry-Moghaddam, co-founder of member organization Iran Human Rights, who argued against the death penalty and its alleged justification by Islamic law.

The Iranian situation echoed around the world, with several reports issued on World Day.


In Dominica, the Bar Association organized a public speaking competition on the topic “Why should the death penalty be abolished?”, and member organization Greater Caribbean for Life (GCL) presented a paper at a conference organized by the EU delegation and the High Commissioner of Australia to Trinidad & Tobago entitled "A dialogue on the death penalty in TT and the Caribbean: Moving Towards Abolition". GCL also screened the film  ”The Penalty”; in cooperation RED Initiative and with the support of Amnesty International. St. Vincent & the Grenadines Human Rights Association (SVGHA) appeared in several radio broadcasts in SVG.

In nearby Puerto Rico, vice-President of the Coalition Kevin Miguel Rivera Medina visited several universities to give talks and hold forums about the death penalty and living conditions on death row, most notably at Universidad del Turabo with Juan Melendez (Puerto Rican exoneree of Florida death row). Meanwhile, in Minneapolis, member organization Advocates for Life gave training for lawyers on capital punishment cases.

In the UK, The Justice Institute Guyana and the Center for Small States organized a conference on “Challenging the Death Penalty in the Commonwealth Caribbean”. GCL’s chair made a presentation at this conference via a video-link. at the same time, organizations in the region actively commemorated World Day as well.


In a similar fashion, the film ”Lindy Lou, Juror #2”; (released on October 10 2018) was screened in Rhode Island and New Jersey in the US, while Lindy Lou herself accompanied by director Florent Vassault held several screenings in France, most notably at the Louxor in Paris sponsored by ECPM and in Malakoff and Montreuil, sponsored by ECPM, ACAT and Amnesty International. Another American abolitionist was touring France, namely Gary Drinkard from Witness to Innocence: partnering with ECPM, the death row exoneree intervened in several schools in Paris and then Brussels to raise awareness on the death penalty amongst French/Belgian youth, especially on what it is like to be on death row.

Also in Paris, ECPM co-organized a conference on living conditions on death row at the Paris Bar, with guest speakers from Cameroon, Indonesia and America sharing their knowledge of conditions in their respective countries’ death row. During the event, the association Planète Réfugiés-Droits de l’Homme, co-organiser of the event, launched an initiative supported by the World Coalition for specific minimum standards of detention for people on death row, recognizing their specific vulnerabilities.

Elsewhere in Europe, the Community of Sant’Egidio invited Susan Kigula, whose case in Uganda was of paramount importance to the abolitionist movement, to give speeches at the University of Antwerp in Belgium and the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands.


As part of its recent ‘Strategy for the Abolition of the Death Penalty’, Australian High Commissioners took the world by storm, publishing articles in local newspapers everywhere, most notably in Ghana, Kenya, Trinidad and Tobago and Thailand. Their work undoubtedly informs the public on the death penalty and nudges the world towards our long-standing goal of universal abolition.

Australia’s contribution to World Day was also done on the national level: screenings of "Guilty";, a film about Bali 9 co-leader Myuran Sukumaran’s last days before his execution, took place around Australia, with events sponsored by the likes of Reprieve Australia, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for a rock-solid effort to raise awareness on the horrors’ of the death penalty.

The role of Human Rights Commissions is also not to be understated: in South Korea, a ‘Ceremony and Conference’ was co-held at the National Assembly of Korea by the Korean Civil Society Coalition for Abolishing Death penalty, Parliament Members and the National Human Rights Commission of Korea. Also in Asia, the Philippines’ Human Rights Commission organized a commemorative event as well, and the Pakistani Commission held events across the nation, its local chapters organizing public demonstrations, forums and public discussions in 9 different cities in Pakistan.

The international political community came together in unison for a global call for abolition: governments across the world commemorated World Day via public statements supporting the abolition of the death penalty. Western countries such as France, Belgium, Austria, the UK, Italy and Canada all reaffirmed their opposition to capital punishment and urged the remaining retentionist countries to outlaw this remnant of a barbaric past. The UN Secretary-General António Guterres also released a statement supporting and encouraging universal abolition.

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