On 27 February 2019, the 7th Annual Conference on Death Penalty was held in Brussels, hosted by the EU Institution, the European Parliament. The opening ceremony engaged more than 700 guests in the Hemicycle, out of a total of 1500 present activists, from human rights defenders to journalists and artists, a unique event premiered in late 2001 by Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort (ECPM), an NGO based in Strasbourg. The annual Conference has become since then both an international recurrence and a powerful monitoring activity for national governments’ behaviour. Three cycles of monitoring and advocacy have been installed since the first event which has considerably augmented the number of condemning countries up to now. As a matter of fact, the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights currently counts 86 ratifying members, plus the signing but not ratification by the government of Angola, a remarkable result that still needs to be entirely fulfilled.
The Opening Ceremony was coordinated by the Vice-President of the EU Parliament Pavel Telička, who introduced the round of presentations by addressing the relevance of the issue and the most favourable European attitude to the fighting process against the systematic use of capital punishments. Mr. Telička underlined the EU commitment by referring to the Protocols n. 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that parties should restrict the application of death penalty to times of war or “imminent threat of war”, which was signed but not ratified by Russia, as recalled by the Belgian Foreign and European Affairs Minister Didier Reynders, and to the Article 3 of the same Convention, which strongly stands for the right of living and against any use of punishment and torture. The Vice-President reiterated the political engagement of the European Parliament on such matter and guaranteed the unquestionable devotion of the institution.
VP/HR Federica Mogherini took the floor and started addressing to the audience the symbolic relevance of the principle of life for the EU Institution, as part of the Copenhagen Criteria’s human rights section. “The European Union is the world largest place free from any form of capital punishment” stated Ms. Mogherini, although the Community still struggles to spread this remarkable success across its political borders. Nevertheless, abolition of death penalty is a fundamental condition in order to apply for EU inclusion. “The protection of human life is a shared value in every culture […] But beyond values, there are powerful arguments against death penalty that are purely based on rationality, on logic. You all know them, but I believe it is important to tell these things again and again. First, death penalty is not a deterrent to crime, and second, there is no coming back once an innocent’s life has been taken.”
Mr. Didier Reynders’s speech followed Ms. Mogherini’s one. The Foreign and European Affairs Minister highlighted the downgrading nature of the capital punishment by remarkably addressing the issue on the moral and ethical point of view of the shared responsibility of both the Government and the executioner. No sustainable peace can be traced in the hearts of individuals and within communities who got their hands dirty for inhuman acts. As a representant of the Belgian government, Mr. Reynders called upon those countries that still have not signed and ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and pledged the importance of not losing the human perspective of death row prisoners.
The Swiss Ambassador in Belgium Mr. Christian Meuwly and the Norwegian Secretary of State and Foreign Affairs Mr. Audun Halvorsen concluded the opening remarks of the first panel. They both tackled the issue of the Moratorium of those countries which not comply to international measures and mentioned the still elevate number of death sentences promulgated by non-binding nations. The Opening Ceremony progressed with the participation of the Executive Director of ECPM and its Board member, respectively Mr. Raphaël Chenuil-Hazan and Ms. Aminata Niakate, followed by the video messages of the General Secretary of the United Nations Mr. Antonio Guterres and of His Holiness Pope Francis. The President of the International Commission against Death Penalty (ICDP) Ms. Navanethem Pillay shared her thoughts on the issue as well as Ms. Aramis Ayala, State Attorney for the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, and the shared touching experience of a US former death row prisoner, Mr. Ndume Olatushani.
Regarding the situation in Middle East on capital punishment, no reference at all was given by the guests except for Mr. Robert Badinter’s short video-message. Mr. Badinter, former French Minister of Justice who fought against the abolition of death penalty in 1981, stressed the importance of including also the dramatic and unlawful scenario of the Maghreb and Arab regions.
The European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) welcomes the fight for the universal abolition of death penalty. We are profoundly joyful for such activism and the protection of human rights. We are thankful to every NGO, institution and association for their everlasting devotion for such noble cause. We hope that the current dreadful condition in the Middle East will be part of future talks.