Murielle Vauthier, coordinator of the 5th World Congress Against the Death Penalty, says organisers have strived to strengthen the Congress’s universal reach while drawing from the cultural dynamic and activism they discovered in the Spanish capital.

After the growth observed over the first four World Congresses, can you give us a few figures to measure the scale of the Madrid edition?

We are expecting 1,500 participants, as we had in Geneva. Once again, the programme is very rich, with 21 debates over two days including two large plenary sessions on Asia and the Middle East-North Africa region. The latter is the continuation of the Regional Congress held in Rabat last October. Among the 100 nations to be represented, we are expecting 200 activists and journalists from retentionist countries. This is also the first time that four governments – Spain, Norway, Switzerland and France – support us, not only financially and diplomatically but also throughout preparations for the Congress.

Besides formal debates, will there be opportunities for participants to network informally?

The academic programme aims to share expertise and strategies in the presence of important names – ministers, leaders of international organisations, Nobel prize laureates… But there are also areas where activists can interact informally, such as the poster sessions.

What kind of cultural events are planned to attract the general public?

There are contributions from Spanish and international artists and most works are created specifically for the Congress. We have been working on a drawing competition in Spanish and French schools with Poster for Tomorrow. The project “Words beyond death row” consists in producing voice recordings of written testimonies by death row prisoners and other witnesses. It acts as a reminder that we are not coming together only to discuss lobbying and strategy, but to fight for human beings.

Outside the Congress venue, we are working to raise awareness on the death penalty in Madrid’s public opinion through a series of film screenings before and after the Congress. But the main event will be a special evening at the Matadero contemporary arts centre, a major exhibition centre with a wide audience. It will give Congress participants an opportunity to discover Madrid while offering Matadero’s patrons a chance to take part in an abolitionist event. The highlight of the Congress will be an evening of sharing experiences in the presence of several Nobel prize winners.

So it is possible to gather to discuss the death penalty and have fun at the same time?

This will happen mostly after the closing ceremony, when the participants will take over the streets and the city. The final march, a traditional closing moment for World Congresses Against the Death Penalty, will capture the energy we have been feeling throughout the preparations in the lively, engaging city that Madrid is. It will be an opportunity to say: “The abolitionist community is getting stronger and it is being heard!”

Interview by Thomas Hubert