Death penalty: bring it back?

Article published on Feb. 1, 2007
Article published on Feb. 1, 2007
In 2005, 60% of Europeans were against the death penalty. A month after Saddam Hussein's execution, opinion particularly divides Eastern Europe

94% of the executions that took place in 2005 were carried out in 4 countries: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the USA. In Europe, abolition has powerful significance, established by protocols 6 and 13 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights. In 2006, Ankara's ratification of the text indicated Turkey’s willingness to conform to the process of initiation into the European club.

The only clouds on the horizon are Belarus, where executions of the condemned continue, and the Kaczynski brothers’ crusade to re-establish the death penalty in Poland, where capital punishment was abolished in 1997. Led by a conservative coalition, Warsaw is making a stand against a community legislation thought ‘anachronistic,’ and intends to reopen the debate. According to a TNS-Sofrés survey published in June 2005, 58% of Poles are in favour of the death penalty.

According to the same survey, 60% of Europeans are against capital punishment, while 38% are in favour. Support for abolition is most widespread in the south (80% of the Spanish population and 72% of Italians declare themselves opposed to the death penalty), while the British are divided on the issue (49% against and 48% in favour).

Michel Taube, spokesman for the French organisation Together Against the Death Penalty (ECPM), and Bernard Antony, president of the Roman Catholic group General Alliance Against Racism and for Respect of French and Christian Identity (Agrif), have their own opinions on the subject.

Tell us about your organisation and what it is doing at the moment.

Michel Taube: We fight for the universal abolition of the death penalty. Europeans should also feel concerned when somebody is condemned to death in China or the United States. We observed the World Day against the Death Penalty on October 10th, and are currently organising the 3rd World Congress Against the Death Penalty, which will be held in Paris, and will bring together about 30 Japanese, American and European organisations.

Bernard Antony: We have established a Committee of Support for the Re-establishment of the Death Penalty. I am especially sensitive to the subject, as I knew the Kegelin family (in Alsace, in spring 2004, young Jeanne-Marie Kegelin was found dead in a pond, having been raped and beaten. The alleged killer is ‘Pierrot le Fou,’ a multiple offender. The case will come to trial during the next few months.) In my eyes, such a horrendous act deserves the only fitting punishment: the death sentence.

Recent surveys have shown that some European populations remain divided on the subject: in France, 42% of those asked said they supported the reintroduction of the death penalty, while 52% were in favour of abolition. 56% of Czechs back capital punishment. Could the death penalty ever be reintroduced?

MT: Legally, it is almost impossible to go back on the issue. France, in particular, has inscribed the law into its penal code and also signed international conventions on the subject, including protocol 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which prohibits going back on the abolition. To re-establish the death penalty would mean violating domestic and international law.

BA: I don’t know. Obviously I don’t admire the Chinese or the Uzbek penal codes. But I think the scale of sentences should be re-established. We are well aware that life sentences are never properly implemented in countries that have abolished the death penalty. To bring it back would lead to two things: setting an example and dissuading potential criminals.

The only European country that employs the death penalty is Belarus. The Polish president Kaczynski wants to reopen the debate in Europe. Is there a growing anti-abolition feeling in Europe?

MT: No. We will not stop debating and explaining, to try to make people understand that the fight for abolition plays an essential role in international relations. Belarus is an extreme example because the executions take place in secret, and the families of the victims never know where the body is. But we keep hoping for change. This year, Morocco will become the 100th country in history to abolish the death sentence.

BA: I think the debate should be reopened. Obviously executions must be rare. But those guilty of serious crimes no longer want to recognise their guilt, but still, they are monsters! A hierarchy must be reinstated and the death sentence must be re-established as the peak of the scale of sentences warranted by the worst crimes.