“There is no justice in death” – voices from the opening of the 7th World Congress

Today was the day of the official opening of the 7th World Congress Against the Death Penalty in the Hemicycle of the European Parliament in Brussels. Next to making clear that global abolition of the death penalty is the ultimate goal, the official opening also foresaw several important announcements. (Photo © Christophe Meireis)

  • Cheick Sako, Minister of Justice of the Republic of Guinea, announced that his country is ready to ratify the OP2, the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aimed at abolishing the death penalty.
  • Jean-Claude Gakosso, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Congo, has also announced that his country will undertake actions to ratify the OP2.
  • The Minister of Justice of Burkina Faso, Mr Bessolé René Bagoro, announced that the draft new Constitution will include abolishing the death penalty and should be adopted in March.



Widespread support for abolition

Other state representatives have stated their support for the abolition of the death penalty. “Our new government unequivocally supports total abolition of the death penalty in Gambia,” said Abubacarr M. Tambadou, Minister of Justice. Mr. Tambadou further stated that his country is currently working towards reforming the constitution, including discussions on abolition.

Thalatha Atukorale, Minister of Justice and Prison Reforms of the Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka declared that the moratorium of the death penalty in her country continues and she called upon every country to support Sri Lanka.

Mohamed Aujjar, Minister of Justice of the Kingdom of Morocco stated that “since 1993, no executions have taken place in my country. I am optimistic that Morocco will move forward step by step towards complete abolition of the death penalty”. He further said that the new Criminal Code discussed in Parliament will reduce the death penalty to crimes such as genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.


Key messages on the death penalty

The opening ceremony also foresaw remarks by the many co-sponsors of the congress, as well as international organizations, government representatives, and a video message of His Holiness Pope Francis. All of the speakers agreed on certain key messages.

First, the death penalty is not a deterrent and there is no coming back once a live has been taken. Second, it is impossible to eliminate errors in any jurisdiction in this world, which is why mistakes in convictions can always be made. Moreover, the death penalty is very often used as a discriminatory tool against minorities, the poor, or against political opponents. The path of abolition is not easy, and each country has taken its time until complete abolition. Lastly, and most importantly, the death penalty goes against the inalienable and primary human right – life itself.


The century of universal abolition

In his passionate speech, Raphaël Chenuil-Hazan, Executive Director of ECPM, portrayed his wish concerning the future of abolition:

“One day we will announce the full abolition of the death penalty. If you have any doubt, look at this room. It is full of decision-makers, parliamentarians, and representatives from civil society. Look at the long way we have come. It is time for the 21st Century to be the century of universal abolition of the death penalty”.

Mr. Chenuil-Hazan also highlighted the importance of dialogue and the fact that also representations of countries that have not yet abolished the death penalty have come to the congress to engage in discussions.

Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, stated that the Congress against the Death Penalty is a good example for that progress is possible. Since its first launch in 2001, 31 more countries have abolished the death penalty. “2018 was a good year, we received positive results almost every month. Let’s try a 2019 that is even better”.

Audun Halvorsen, State Secretary to Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Norway highlighted that “even in 2019, people can be sentenced to death because of who they love, because of their faith, their sexual orientation. This is not acceptable.”

“We seek revenge and we call it justice. Yet, there is no justice in death,” concluded Aramis Ayala, State Attorney for the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, United States of America, who made headlines in 2018 by saying she would not apply the death penalty in any case. “We must stand together in the fight against the death penalty”.


It was through my art that I found freedom

The opening ceremony also featured various artistic performances such as by Typh Barrow, a Belgian singer, and Vanessa Place, an American poet and lawyer. Last but not least, the audience of the opening ceremony experienced a very emotional moment when Ndume Olatushani, former death row prisoner in the United States, presented an art work that he had prepared specifically for the congress. His painting featured an electric chair “because that’s what I was facing, for 20 years. After I was released, it was through my art that I found freedom”.

Anyone who is interested in the Congress can find more information on the events of tomorrow and Friday on the timetable. For those that cannot attend the events, it is worth checking out ECPM’s Twitter account for regular updates.



By Alena Bieling