The closing ceremony, in the arts centre BOZAR, was opened by the centre’s artistic director, Mr Paul Dujardin. Declaring that abolition is a most important fight for humanity because capital punishment symbolizes human cruelty, he hoped that Africa would soon be the second continent to achieve abolition.
Mr Didier Reynders, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of Belgium, praised the depth and range of the Congress, which had hosted more than fifty diverse debates and cultural events. He underscored the value of inviting delegations from countries that still have the death penalty and encouraging people of all opinions to engage in dialogue, and hoped that he would soon have the opportunity to attend a World Congress that celebrated universal abolition.
Several of the Movement’s principal supporters then spoke. Ms Aleyya Gouda Baco, representing the Minister of Justice and Legislation of the Republic of Benin, described the steps that Benin had taken between 1987 and 2018 to abolish the death penalty, affirmed humanity’s collective responsibility to respect life, and underlined that the claim that the death penalty is justified because it deters crime has been shown to be false. People do not cease to commit crimes because of it.
Mr Christian Leffler, Deputy Secretary General for Economic and Global Issues at theEuropean External Action Service, welcomed the event’s cultural and religious diversity, which confirmed the movement’s universal character. He highlighted that it is always inappropriate to take a life for a death, first because all criminal systems are fallible and the conviction and execution of an innocent person is cruel beyond measure, and second because research has demonstrated that the death sentence is discriminatory: those who are poor and already face discrimination are particularly likely to be sentenced. He ended by expressing confidence that “universal abolition is no longer a matter of if, but of when”.
“We’re told by some defenders of the death penalty that it’s a religious imperative, that it’s part of the culture, that
people would not understand if it were done away with. But cultures and religions are not static. Doctrines evolve. Interpretations change and people’s understanding changes too. What doesn’t change is the cruel and irreversible nature of capital punishment. There is no humane way to execute another human being, and there’s no way back if you get it wrong.”
Deputy Secretary General for Economic and Global Issues at the European External Action Service
Henriette Geiger, Director for People and Peace of the Directorate General for Development and Cooperation of the European Commission, declared that capital punishment, like slavery and torture, should be eliminated from our societies. It is unacceptable that thousands of people continue to remain on death row in the US and that China does not even report how many of its citizens it executes.
Mr Sebastiano Cardi, Director General for Political and Security Affairs of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, reaffirmed that Italy strongly supports universal abolition.
Mrs. Sophie Thevenoux, Ambassador of the Principality of Monaco, stated that the death penalty is incompatible with the values and principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and that it remains vital to continue to fight this “inefficient and barbarous practice”.
A musical interlude followed. Ms Susan Kigula sang “You raise me up”, a song that she sang as a member of the choir she formed with other prisoners on death row in Uganda. Then Ballaké Sissoko played two pieces on the kora.
Speaking on video, Mrs. Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, underlined that abolition is not a monocultural idea because countries from different cultures and religions support it. She also reminded the audience that capital punishment is discriminatory: it disproportionately affects people who are already vulnerable or suffer discrimination.
Mr Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, also spoke to the Congress on video. He affirmed that capital punishment is not justice and that it is necessary to build a shared understanding of the reasons why it is right to abolish it.
“Nowhere is discrimination in society more evident than when one looks at who is on death row. My Office conducts prison visits around the globe and colleagues consistently report that death rows are disproportionately populated by the poor and economically vulnerable, members of ethnic minorities, people with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities, foreign nationals, indigenous persons, and other people from marginalized communities. When statistics are collected, they support this observation. This discrimination is illegal and it is indefensible.”
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Acknowledging that this Congress had engaged for the first time with the private sector, Ms Carleen Pickard, ethical campaigns specialist at Lush North America, thanked the Congress for inviting her and underlined that companies like her own would be robust and loyal allies of the abolitionist movement. The campaign that Lush ran had raised awareness in the United States, converted staff and many customers to abolition, and raised money and other forms of support for abolition campaigns. She looked forward to seeing her own and other companies at the next Congress.
Parliamentarians Against the Death Penalty presented the statement that is reproduced below.
The National Human Rights Commission of Côte d’Ivoire presented the statement by eleven national human rights institutions that is reproduced below.
Mr Basile Ader and Ms Nicole Van Crombrugghe presented the statement on behalf of Bar Associations that is presented below.
In a video message, Mr Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International, said that the fight against capital punishment was one of the most successful human rights campaigns, inspirational for others. He urged activists not to be discouraged because, even if they experience setbacks, the objective of universal abolition is truly achievable.
Joseph Jovin, a student from Tanzania, then presented the winners of the fourth Draw Me Abolition prize. See the Highlight on page 28.
Two witnesses then spoke on behalf of detainees. Ms Ensaf Haidar, whose husband was sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia for writing a blog. She expressed her complete opposition to violations of freedom of thought and expression, not only because of the injustice suffered by her husband, but because these are fundamental rights of all human beings. She said that each of us, and society, faces a choice: to create a better world or continue to allow people to be denied freedom of expression and to suffer violations of other human rights.
“We have an unavoidable choice before us. Are we ready to step into the future? Or are we resigned to bequeathing to our grandchildren a sad memory of failed courage, of lack of will to change the world for good? Young people across the world face this choice. A world ravaged by war and human rights violations. Or a dream which should become a moral and human duty for us all, to support and consolidate freedom of conscience and human rights.”
wife of Raif Badawi, sentenced to death then to imprisonment in Saudi Arabia for allegedly insulting Islam.
Ms Fatimata Mbaye, a lawyer in Mauritania, explained the case of her client, Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir, condemned to death for blasphemy because he spoke in his blog about slavery and discrimination, notably against the caste of blacksmiths to which he belongs. In 2017 his sentence was reduced on appeal to two years, a period he had already served. He nevertheless remains in prison and is deprived of contact with his family, lawyer and doctor.
Mr Kevin Miguel Rivera-Medina, President of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, and Ms Hsin-Yi Lin, Director of the Taiwan Alliance to end the death penalty, read out the Final Declaration of the World Congress, reproduced above. (See the Final Declaration on pages 29-32).
Closing the Congress, Ms Florence Leroux and Mr Alain Morvan, representing ECPM, recalled that activists are the heart of the abolition movement. Without their energy and action, ideas lack weight. They congratulated the Congress for integrating new perspectives and directions, on the issue of gender for example, and for engaging with the private sector. Mr Raphaël Chenuil-Hazan, Executive Director of ECPM, closed the ceremony calling on all abolitionists to unite for change and join the growing family of campaigners against the death penalty. The participants then assembled for the World March for the Abolition of the Death Penalty.