3 months have passed since the 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Oslo. Enough time for us to collect the figures, hear back from the participants and draw the first conclusions – and they are proving to be excellent: this latest Congress was a success!
Political involvement at the highest level
10 ministers, 6 secretaries of State, more than 50 ambassadors, 14 representatives from international organisations and 24 parliamentarians…The panel of political representatives present at the Oslo Congress was as broad as it was prestigious. We were able to count on the involvement of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, whose presence demonstrated the strong support for our cause of the highest decision-making bodies. The EU High Representative for Human Rights, Mr Stravros Lambrinidis, gave an energetic and inspiring speech which left us in no doubt about the will of Europe to work in favour of universal abolition. Our Honorary President, Mr Robert Badinter, concentrated on the terrorist context and the dangers it creates in terms of the regression of human rights with his usual verve and intellectual refinement. And finally, the Head of State and spiritual leader, His Holiness Pope Francis, sent us a message connecting abolition of the death penalty to problems of human dignity and the conditions of detention of prisoners.
These speeches, as well as those made by the Norwegian Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr Borge Brende, and his French counterpart, Mr Jean-Marc Ayrault, and the messages sent by the Nobel Peace Prize winners Desmond Tutu and José Ramos-Horta, are proof of the universality and coherence of the abolitionist debate.
The universality of our cause is today particularly incarnated by Africa, an extremely dynamic continent in the struggle against use of the death penalty. Thus, two African ministers brought good news. Mr Flavien Mbata, Justice Minister from the Central African Republic, announced the creation of a special tribunal to handle the most serious crimes, particularly those committed in a context of conflict. This tribunal will not include the death penalty in its legal arsenal. Mr Mbata therefore declared that “the death penalty is abolished de facto for the most serious crimes of war and against humanity, although the CAR has been a de facto abolitionist state since the 1981 moratorium.” The second piece of good news was just as positive: Mr Christophe Mboso, Deputy Justice Minister for the Democratic Republic of Congo, declared that his country will vote in favour of a universal moratorium on the death penalty at the next UN General Assembly.
A popular success
With 1,356 participants from 121 different countries, the World Congress was a real public success. The event’s official sessions took place in two of the most prestigious settings in the Norwegian capital: the Oslo opera house and the town hall. For three days, the Opera became the abolition headquarters, hosting plenary sessions, roundtables, exhibitions and more informal meetings. One of the great innovations of the Congress was the organisation of speed dating. This new formula facilitated meetings between different abolition players, particularly the lawyers who come up against the death penalty in their work.
Asia was one of the main themes of the Congress and was the central theme of a plenary assembly. Although it is the continent which executes the most people in the world, there are also glimpses of areas of progress. Terrorism, which raises the issue of a new positioning of players and a restructuring of abolitionist strategies across the world, was the subject of a roundtable voted for by the public. A number of parallel events also enabled the participants to learn about the specific realities of capital punishment, including the situation in Iran, the issue of children sentenced to death and Belarus.
Finally, the World Congress Against the Death Penalty remained faithful to its identity as a cultural event by screening thematic films and holding exhibitions of work produced by prisoners sentenced to death. Artistic performances also accompanied the opening ceremony and a world march against the death penalty was held. The latest Congress therefore ended with fanfare in the streets of Oslo. See you in 3 years time?