World Leaders Unite Against the Death Penalty

March 1, 2010

By Laura Moye, Amnesty International USA Death Penalty Abolition Campaign Director

Imagine President Obama competing with other nations for world leadership on human rights by putting forward a goal to end the death penalty globally in just five years. Well, that’s exactly what Spain’s Prime Minister Zapatero did last Wednesday. He addressed the Fourth World Congress against the Death Penalty in Geneva saying that his country, which now holds the European Union presidency, was very committed to seeing a world without the death penalty by 2015.

Leaders meet in Geneva at the World Congress Against the Death Penalty
Leaders meet in Geneva at the World Congress Against the Death Penalty

The World Congress against the Death Penalty was kicked off at the United Nations’ historic Palais des Nations. Preceding Mr. Zapatero’s remarks was a string of high level government and UN officials who put forward their commitment to global abolition. Robert Badinter also spoke. Badinter was the French justice minister responsible for the abolition of France’s death penalty at a time when French public opinion was more in favor of the death penalty than not. Today, the European Union is unified on the issue of the death penalty. Abolition has become a major plank in their human rights platform.

In 1977, 16 nations were abolitionist. Today, 139 are. China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the US are noted outliers in this global trend. And there is a growing global movement working hard to continue the trend toward global abolition.

Abolition of the death penalty everywhere is possible. Abolition of the death penalty in the United States will happen in my lifetime!

There is a global community of human rights activists and governments that stand with us in our struggle to end the death penalty.

It has been a wonderful couple of days here in Geneva, connecting with these allies, listening to panels about the progress and challenges in this important work. Panels on each global region and other themes have been presented by key people in the field. Thursday, a panel explored the death penalty in the US, Japan, China and Iran. Iranian Nobel laureate and human rights giant Shirin Ebadi addressed the panel alongside Representative Gail Chasey, the champion of death penalty abolition in New Mexico, and other advocates.

Imagine the United States rejecting a culture of death and embracing the right to life as a fundamental human right. Imagine the US turning to constructive ways of preventing and dealing with the deeply damaging impact of violent crime without imitating the crime of murder. Imagine the US State Department putting abolition of the death penalty on its agenda when meeting with other nations on the issue of human rights!

Take heart fellow abolitionists! Victory is on the horizon. Let’s find encouragement in this growing international solidarity!