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Abolish death penalty: the aim of the 4th World Congress

Photo © John Brownlee
Photo © John Brownlee
Katia Gandolfi
24 February 2010

On Wednesday 24 February 2010 opened in Geneva the 4th World Congress against the Death Penalty. During three days, over 1,000 representatives of civil society, international organizations and governments met to define and reinforce common strategies to abolish the death penalty.

After Strasbourg in 2001, Montreal in 2004, Paris in 2007, Geneva hosted in turn from 24 to 26 February 2010, the forces to unite international abolitionist movement louder who wants to hear his voice.

The Director of the United Nations in Geneva, Sergei Ordzhonikidze -- in company of Raphael Chenuil-Hazan, Director of Ensemble contre la Peine de Mort (ECPM) ( umbrella organization of the Congress and the president of the Swiss National Council, Pascale Bruderer -- inaugurated the Congress in a highly symbolic place: the hall of Human Rights of the United Nations Palais des Nations. The three speakers stressed the importance of this meeting to unanimously respect the most fundamental human right: the right to life.

Led by Darius Rochebin, the morning continued with statements by various partners of the 4th Congress, including the World Coalition against the Death Penalty (, another initiator of the Congress. The speakers recalled not only the "barbarism" of such a practice, but also the arbitrariness with which it is applied. Bianca Jagger, Goodwill Ambassador of the Council of Europe discussed the concept of discrimination (social, financial, religious, ethnics,...) to which are subject the convicted. By citing Albert Camus, he underlined that a civilized, just and humanist society can only disapprove of retaliation: "execution, but what is it then if not the most premeditated of murders?"

Speakers then underlined the urgency of a moratorium and the three main reasons for the need for a real fight against the death penalty, namely the cases of jurisdiction errors, the ineffectiveness against crime and the violation of human dignity in such a practice. It is indeed a real struggle for a common cause that brought together activists worldwide. As said Robert Badinter, former Minister of Justice and author of the bill abolishing the death penalty in France, who initiated the plea of the morning along with Abdou Diouf, former president of Senegal and Secretary General the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie ( and Spanish President Jose Rodriguez Louis Zapatero.

The latter is committed to working within the European Union ( the establishment of a moratorium as a step necessary for the abolition of capital punishment in retentionist countries, and its implementation by 2015. To meet this goal, he proposed the establishment of an international commission which would work closely with the civil, governmental and international organizations. The President stressed the effectiveness of such a forum to develop and strengthen a global coalition, which has already been successful in convincing 19 states previously to remove the death penalty, and took the opportunity to invite the next Congress to meet Spain.

As for the 2010 edition of the Congress, it focused on two main themes, outlined in two plenary sessions. The first objective was given as the interaction between various international and regional institutions and their mutual commitments in the abolitionist movement, as mentioned by Ruth Dreifuss, former Federal Councilor and Chair of the session. The second focused on future challenges with retentionist countries, in particular the United States, Japan, China and Iran, States where the majority of executions are done. Besides these two major debates, roundtables, workshops, screenings and other artistic expressions were organized.

All these statements pointed towards the need to eradicate the death penalty, connecting it with what Victor Hugo said more than a century ago: "The death penalty is the special and eternal sign of barbarism".

ICVolunteers mobilized 16 volunteer interpreters for, this conference. The language combination were as follows: English, French and Spanish.

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