Abolition of the Dealth Penalty: no granted progress
World Day Against the Death Penalty – « Transparency and the Death Penalty – What is to Hide ? » - Speech by Mr. François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations - 10 October 2017
"Beyond the UN, the opposition to death penalty has gained ground in a large part of the world, with number of countries shifting to abolition. [...] Still, our progress should not been taken for granted and we have to be extremely vigilant." French Ambassador François Delattre
Monsieur le Secrétaire général,
Madame et Messieurs les Ambassadeurs,
I’d like to start by thanking the Secretary-General for his presence among us and his inspiring words on an issue which is really dear to France. Universal abolition of the death penalty, whatever the circumstances, has become a pillar of our diplomacy. It is very much part of our DNA, it is also, should I say, a “marque de fabrique”, a “trade mark”, a specificity of the European Union, in which no one can access or remain if it has not abolished this unhuman punishment. We are honored to have strong and reliable partners from all the continents who share our goals and efforts towards abolition. I want to thank all participants present here this morning.
Together, we have come a long way since 2007 and we have made important achievements within the UN.
Ten years ago, the General Assembly adopted its first resolution calling upon the establishment of a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty. Three days were necessary to vote on all amendments and motions presented to defeat this text. Since then, the resolution has benefited from growing support - always with more votes in favor and less votes opposed to it.
The UN now has a policy that excludes cooperation with member states, when there is a risk that the death penalty could be used. Since the establishment of the international tribunal for Yugoslavia in 1993, all international tribunals have excluded death penalty from their statutes. All this reflect an emerging consensus towards the end of death penalty.
Beyond the UN, the opposition to death penalty has gained ground in a large part of the world, with number of countries shifting to abolition. We welcome the decision taken recently in Mongolia (congratulation dear Sukhee), Gambia, Benin, Nauru and Guinea.
Still, our progress should not been taken for granted and we have to be extremely vigilant.
These achievements indeed are not irreversible. In an uncertain world, temptation to reestablish the death penalty, in order to give confidence to public opinions worried by their safety, does exist. All our societies are concerned. Some countries are moving a step backward and are considering resuming executions and breaking moratoriums, among them Nigeria, Bahrein, Koweit or Jordan. And death penalty is still used in significant parts of the world, notably in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iraq and the United States.
Thanks to the discussions that are taking place on this symbolic day, all over the world, we can keep the momentum.
Transparency is the theme of our discussion today. Why is it so important? Because our societies need to have informed debates to decide what is desirable with regard to abolition of the death penalty, based on values, but also based on facts. In some countries it is impossible to even know the number of executions or condemnations, or the crimes people have been convicted for. How can one challenge the so-called deterrent effect of capital punishment without this basic information? We also owe transparency to the convicted, whose basic rights cannot be guaranteed in secrecy, and their family. The reasoning behind the death sentence, the procedure for appeal, pardon or commutation are important safeguards in fair proceedings. For those waiting years in the death row, doesn’t this amount to a form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment?
The release of information is of course the primary responsibility of the states that apply the death penalty. But when these data are provided, then the international human rights system, including the United Nations and regional mechanisms, may have a role to play in gathering and sharing information. We must maintain a united front, together with the NGOs such as Amnesty international, Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort or the International Federation for Human Rights, who do great advocacy work throughout the world, as borne out by the evidence and information gathered on the ground.
You know my friends, I don’t want to lecture anybody here. If you think about it, it took France two centuries to get rid of the death penalty before it was first abolished in 1795. When it was eventually abolished for good, in October 1981, thirty-six years ago, death penalty was sentenced 8 times during that year. Death penalty was, as you can see, deeply rooted. Our European partners were key in convincing our leaders, our population, our media, our judiciary that this sentence could not be right.
This is why France strongly believes in the value of international efforts and partnerships. We have to work hand in hand, to fill in the information gaps and to feed the debate, keeping in mind one single goal : to put an end to this irreversible, inefficient and inhumane punishment in the world. I thank you.