This year has been busy for ECPM and Teaching Abolition …

That’s right. For the first time, we launched two competitions simultaneously. On the one hand,the internaitonal poster contest “Draw me the abolition” and on the other hand a video contest #CausonsAbolition (in English: #LetsTalkAboutAbolition).

What made the 3rd edition of “Draw me the abolition” so important?

We wanted to mark the expansion of the international dimension with the Teaching Abolition International Network which is getting bigger and bigger and whose flagship project is the Draw Me Abolition competition. This is the third time we have held the competition and we had unprecedented levels of participation from 12 countries across 4 continents. We welcomed participation from our Lebanese, Moroccan and Tunisian partners, of course, who are members of the network but we also expanded a little further into Europe with Germans and Italians who have come on board. For the first time, the competition also took place in sub-Saharan Africa with participation from Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania. Finally, for the first time in the history of Draw Me Abolition, young people from Asia (Pakistan and Taiwan) took part in the competition. We were therefore very proud. These 12 participating countries represented a good geographical spread and embodied the significant diversity of the death penalty situation with, for the first time, the participation of retentionist countries. I am thinking in particular of Pakistan where there have been a huge number of executions recently.

Looking at the drawings, did you find a difference in how action against the death penalty was illustrated, depending on the situation in each country?

The global message for abolition obviously remains the same. It is the common denominator of the exhibition, what lies behind its strength, the connection between all young citizens from across the world. But, there is indeed a cultural diversity which stands out. I am thinking in particular of the numerous drawings received from the DRC which are distinctive because they are very realistic. They often express the death penalty from a violent and shocking angle connected to the situation in the country, the reality of the DRC today. We also see that young people often confuse popular scapegoating with the death penalty, something which sheds light on the way the subject is perceived by young people. We better understand the confusions that lie therein and that is very interesting for us, not least for improving our approach to raising the awareness of young people, to better adapting it to the context of each country.

Can you tell us about the second competition this year, #LetsTalkAboutAbolition?

To celebrate 35 years of abolition in France, we launched a whole new national project for young people: a video competition called #LetsTalkAboutAbolition. The idea was to hear from French young people on this subject and to help them to talk about it in a new way, in small viral videos like YouTubers. Our idea was to find out how young people communicate these days, how they get their information and have fun. Online platforms for small videos are increasingly part of how they get their information, have fun, spread a message or spread the word about an idea. This new project was a test for us and in the end it worked rather well. We received many videos and 8 of them were preselected and put online on ECPM’s YouTube channel. The idea of this competition was not just to say to young people “Talk about the death penalty in a new, offbeat way focusing on the positive values that you defend when you take action about the death penalty”. We wanted to introduce them to how to use social media for activism. It turned out to be quite natural for them. They are used to getting to grips with new means of communication, spreading the word with a hashtag or through a video. What we are proud of in this project is to see that these 8 videos have provoked reactions among young people themselves and also between the various schools which took part. They have had a lot of likes, comments, reactions, shares…they have made it possible to augment the issue. These videos are also interesting in terms of the diversity of approaches taken and the various thematic angles used by the young people involved. We have videos which take a more violent form, which try to upset us and shock us to alert us to the death penalty; and, on the contrary, those with a more playful tone and a more artistic, even sometimes funny and offbeat, style which works well.

As is often the case, a closing ceremony was held for both projects…

Yes. We ended these projects, as we tend to, with a beautiful ceremony on the Tuesday after schools went back. Young people from the Ile-de-France region who took part in the competitions met at the auditorium at Paris City Hall. When these projects end it is important for us to thank the young people for their commitment and to highlight their involvement in these projects by opening the doors of the Republic’s most symbolic places and by letting them meet one another to demonstrate the common dimension of these projects. The young people were also congratulated by elected officials and people directly involved in the death penalty such as Sandrine Ageorges-Skinner and Sabine Atlaoui.

Is the most important thing to ensure that the work of these young people is recognised?

Exactly. I don’t really like to say “give them the floor”. They idea is that they “take” the floor. We are just spectators and we can only congratulate them for what they have done and encourage them, recognise them on an equal footing with all the other people taking action for abolition. Young people are legitimate actors in the international movement against the death penalty. It is not just words when we say that universal abolition in the future cannot be achieved without them.

You have carried out numerous presentations in schools. Through the contact you are lucky enough to have with young people, can you give us a sense of their attitude in their anti-death penalty commitment?

What I really like is the fact that they can be caught by surprise, even when they seem to have strongly held and divisive ideas about the issue, a fairly simplistic vision. They can be very demanding and very harsh in the way they condemn and consider the acts of other people. But for most of them the debate always opens up very quickly and ideas appear spontaneously, common sense ideas which stand out very quickly. They think about the wellbeing of society in general. They can also be very quickly caught by surprise by other ideas, particularly when they meet people who are directly involved in the death penalty on a daily basis. It is always very emotional to see how those who had been the harshest at the beginning can change their minds. Young people are very attentive, very considerate and very sensitive with the witnesses. They have a lot of empathy. And then they try to find solutions straight away. You feel that there is a desire to act. When they hear the stories of the spouses of prisoners sentenced to death or even prisoners formerly sentenced to death and released, they don’t necessarily ask “How did it happen” but rather “What can we do? Have you had justice?” We feel this desire to act.