Community of Sant’Egidio Calls for Universal Abolition with Cities for Life, Cities Against the Death Penalty


By Louis Linel, on 8 December 2020

The discussion was chaired by Mario Marazitti, who stood in front of broadcasted live images of the light-draped Colosseum in Rome, Italy, displaying the slogan of this international key event, “No Justice Without Life”.

It brought together many abolitionist actors from around the world, ranging from political leaders to lawyers, from activists to exonerated death row prisoners.

David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament, recalled the efforts undertaken by the European Union to urge States that have not done so yet to end the death penalty, underlining the constant support of the European Union for the United Nations General Assembly resolution for a moratorium on executions. “We cannot remain indifferent” to this practice, which has put innocent people at high risk of being executed for a crime they did not commit, and whose alleged deterrent has never been validated by history. Trampling underfoot the right to life, “capital punishment represents a total failure of the rule of law”, David Sassoli added.

The various presentations that followed were all reminders of how fallible legal systems are, in particular when issuing and carrying out irreversible legal penalties, such as capital punishment. However, noteworthy progress is being made towards universal abolition.

Religious activists and leaders are among the strongest voices against the death penalty, arguing that everyone has God-bestowed dignity, irrespective of the harm they may have caused. Catholic Mobilizing Network, a member organization of the World Coalition, is also leading a three-pronged nationwide campaign based on education, advocacy, and prayer to amplify the initiative against capital punishment launched by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2005. The number of annual executions in the USA has been divided in more than half since 2009 – from 52 to 22 in 2019. President-elect Joe Biden, who is a Catholic, has vowed to end federal executions that resumed last July under the Trump administration after a 17-year hiatus. Pope Francis himself has surprised the world when he expressed his opposition to the death penalty before the US Congress in 2015: “Society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes”.

Suzana Norlihan Alias, a lawyer in Malaysia whose brother is currently on death row, also explained that the abolition of the death penalty is very much in line with Islamic teachings. Although murder is theoretically eligible for the death penalty under Qisas law (which means “retaliation”), the victim’s family is also entitled to determine the penalty that should be imposed, since the crime resulted in an offense against a person, not the State. As such, victims’ family members are allowed to forgive the offender and grant pardon, which is encouraged by the Quran. Under Sharia law, Suzana Norlihan Alias concluded, capital punishment for murder is not a mandatory penalty but an exception.

The death penalty itself steadily turns out to be an exception that is now applied by a minority of States in the world. While it used to be the norm in criminal justice back in the 1970’s, when only 16 countries had abolished it, capital punishment is retained by only 56 countries today. This has become possible thanks to the devotion and the perseverance of many actors, including the Cities that have united for the right to life, and the people who remain committed to preserving human dignity. A special tribute was paid in this regard to Bill Pelke, who sadly passed away a few days ago. Bill Pelke dedicated his entire life to combat the death penalty, helping people understand that its practice “only brings society to the same level than those who killed”.

The festivity culminated in a light show displayed on the Coliseum, calling upon everyone to win over to universal abolition: “With you, the future has already started”.
You can find the rerun of the event on Community of Sant’Egidios website here.

Credits: Community of Sant’Egidio

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