Editorial – Brussels Congress: The abolitionist movement is getting stronger and more structured

30 March 2019

By Ramla Liatouji, Coordinator of the 7th World Congress Against the Death Penalty – ECPM, France
At the 7th World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Brussels, many of you came to reaffirm your commitment to the establishment of a world without the death penalty. The academic work carried out by the ECPM team and the members of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty was supported by some 1500 participants from all 5 continents. The 70 speakers, with various fields of expertise, contributed significantly to the enhancement of the debates. But beyond the quest for information and a conventional inventory, it is the quality of exchanges, innovative meeting formats and the unprecedented networking opportunity that have made the Brussels Congress an essential platform to support all actors in the field of abolition, whatever their involvement or areas of competence.
OPENING CEREMONY | Opening remarks by the co-sponsors of the Congress.
  The multiple synergies deployed jointly by international civil society and the efforts of States to involve them in their cooperation policies in favour of human rights have made it possible to take a new step forward, by working in a concrete and structured manner to mitigate the risks of latent resurgence that emerge as populist movements, often complacent towards totalitarian justice or capital punishment as a choice.
Plenary session: Abolition strategies: challenges and opportunities in Sub-Saharan Africa
  At the heart of the Congress debates, the African continent occupied a central place and was the subject of unprecedented representation (Burkina Faso, Congo, Congo, Guinea, Gambia…), both during the official ceremonies and during the debates, where several Ministers of Justice and other political decision-makers gave their testimonies (a first at a Congress against the death penalty!), thus positioning themselves as unexpected stakeholders alongside NGOs. The real progress made by many sub-Saharan African countries in terms of abolition is now indisputable. The other major and probably the most challenging issue was the private sector. Can he be a new ally? Should a responsible business demand respect for human dignity? Some prominent businessmen, such as Sir Richard Branson (United Kingdom) and the multinational brand LUSH (USA) among others, have agreed to express their resolutely abolitionist and militant views. This plan is ambitious but promising since the mere fact of trading with retentionist countries will be considered inconsistent with the sustainable development objectives set out by the new corporate social responsibility standards. At a more operational level, the overall mobilization strategy has naturally targeted other key partners such as NGOs, parliamentarians, NHRIs, lawyers, experts (United Nations Special Rapporteurs), the media, and more locally, teachers, students and the general public. Many of them, rich in stimulating meetings and exchanges, left Brussels with the firm intention of developing projects or joining national or regional networks, according to the results of the first evaluation study published after the Congress.
EVENING OF TESTIMONIES | Pete Ouko, lawyer, former death row prisoner from Kenya and Antoinette Chahine, former death row prisoner from Lebanon
But beyond the unstoppable ambition to “move the lines” that animated us all during the realization of this event, it is the incredible dynamics of the human experience that carried us during these four particularly energizing days. In particular, we were able to observe evidence of absolute resilience, embodied in a former death row inmate released after 16 years of detention, during which she studied law to become a lawyer and activist, who greeted her country’s Minister of Justice around a corridor, surprised and moved to find him there. We were touched by the mobilization of students from the University of Flanders who were mobilized alongside their rector to support their professor currently under sentence of death in Iran. Finally, the courageous and benevolent dialogue between a former executioner and several death row survivors has finally shaken our doubts about the legitimacy of his testimony. All these anecdotes confirm our belief that this 7th World Congress will contribute to the sustainable consolidation of the human being at the heart of our project.