A daily blog from the 4th World Congress Against the Death Penalty
[Please note, hoping to add some photos later on…]
Today, Tuesday 24th February 2010 is a date that resonates for two reasons.
- It is the day Hank Skinner was due to be executed in Texas (stay of four weeks granted …)
- It’s the day the world came together at the United Nations in Geneva to celebrate progress and promote further action against the death penalty.
It was an early start: we’d been advised to turn up in good time to the United Nations building in order to get security-cleared and to guarantee a seat in the main hall. This room is grandly titled ‘Room XX of the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations, at the Palais des Nations’, and you’d recognise it from TV – the huge, artistically designed domed ceiling, the circular seating with personal deskspace at each, and comprehensive audio assistance. So exciting! The setting certainly created the atmosphere for a serious gathering of world-class speakers, and it quickly became obvious that there were some genuine icons in human rights present in the room.
We heard welcoming words from dignitaries from around the world. Countries represented were Switzerland (our hosts), the USA, Benin, France, Argentina, Italy, Norway, Belgium, Luxembourg and Spain. Highlights from the morning included:
Bianca Jagger, Goodwill Ambassador for the death penalty on the Council of Europe. Bianca spoke in detail and with great passion about the gross injustice of the death penalty and admitted that the USA and China’s stance sickened her. She drew particular attention to specific current cases in the USA. She also reminded us that some 42 cases of lethal injection since 1992 have gone horrendously wrong, with inmates insufficiently anaesthetized.
‘This is not an execution it is a murder. I was stunned and very sad that SCOTUS ruled the lethal injection ‘humane’ in 2008.
‘There is a shocking lack of access to executive clemency in USA. Bush is renowned for having said “I am confident that every person executed on my watch was guilty”. State-sanctioned murder has no place in the modern world. America must get its house in order. ‘
Gry Larsen, Norway’s Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs spoke eloquently about progress being made, particularly in Europe.
‘The global shift over last 20 yrs shows us it IS possible to choose to abolish,’ she said. ‘Those countries who have abolished have not suffered poor consequences with respect to stability or serious crime. Countries are free to choose and Norway says “The door is open now for greater freedom to choose not to take lives”. The balance has tipped. In 2008 only 25 nations carried out executions. We have seen rising respect for human dignity. We need more!’
Jean Asselborn, Foreign Affairs Minister for Luxembourg explained that we have to convince humanity in media, schools, parliaments and through collaboration and he hopes for enlightened public debate at national levels across retentionist states. He congratulated the political courage of Mongolia, Burundi and Togo in abolishing, and additonally hopes that other US states will follow the example in 2009 of New Mexico. He reiterated Bianca Jagger’s insistence that the USA should lead by example.
Robert Badinter, former French Minister for Justice and author of French abolition – France was the 35th country to go the distance in 1985 – and there are now 138 worldwide.
‘Consider Europe’s bloody past and realise what a huge step it is that European states are now forbidden under law to execute!’ he said.
Abdou Diouf, Former President of Senegal, a rare African nation to have abolished the death penalty for all crimes. He also spoke inspirationally.
‘Death rows are rows of shame,’ he stated. ‘Man is the remedy to man.’
We also heard from Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the Spanish President. Although unfortunately I couldn’t get an instant translation for his speech. But never mind, it was on message for sure, given the applause…