Robert Badinter: “The right to life is the most fundamental human right”

18 June 2016


It’s official: Robert Badinter is now ECPM’s Honorary President! To mark this occasion, and just a few days before the start of the 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty, we took the opportunity to ask him a few questions about the current situation. The former Minister of Justice particularly touched on our duty to be vigilant at a time when “the urge for death” is being revived and provided an illuminating acknowledgement of the complexity of capital punishment across the world.

ECPM:You have supported ECPM for a number of years and today you have agreed to be our Honorary President. What role do you think NGOs should have in the abolitionist struggle?

Robert Badinter: Without the ardent commitment of NGOs, abolition of the death penalty as a cause never would have triumphed: not in Europe where Amnesty International received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 to honour its work, including making abolition a human rights priority; and not in France where, without the support of NGO activities, the struggle for abolition would not have found sufficient support amongst public opinion; and finally, across the world it is the NGOs which have given the abolitionist movement its universal dimension.

Why is it essential to maintain the struggle against the death penalty in France, 35 years after abolition?

France has been a resolute member of the group of countries leading the struggle against the death penalty since 1998. It has a duty to keep its place among those States fighting the death penalty across the world.

What do you think about the situation of the death penalty across the world?

It’s complicated. Considerable progress has been made over the last few decades: in 20 years, 42 States have become abolitionist for all crimes (in 1996, 60 countries had abolished the death penalty for all crimes; at the end of 2015, 102 of them had done so). But currently, the development of terrorism and the cruelty of its actions are awakening the urge for death in the public. It is out of the question for us to reintroduce the death penalty to combat terrorism. Everyone knows that death does not dissuade terrorists from doing what they do as they often die during the attacks they commit. Moreover, in the eyes of their supporters executed terrorists become ‘martyrs’ for their cause. The day after a ‘martyr’ is executed commandos are created who are looking, first and foremost, for revenge.

What strategy do you think we should adopt to banish capital punishment across the world?

Keep a good, strong hold on our principles: the right to life is the most fundamental human right. Abolition is therefore essential if humanity is to make any of the moral progress it needs. Any and every method of communication should be used to demonstrate how pointless the death penalty is in the struggle against violent crime and injustice for which it is a carrier, be it legal error or racial prejudice which secretly become part of death sentences.

What are your expectations and hopes with regard to the next World Congress Against the Death Penalty which will be held in Oslo in a few days time?

The World Congresses Against the Death Penalty, which have been held for more than ten years now, have always been an opportunity for fruitful conversations with abolitionist activists from other countries. It is good that people who share the same values can come together to measure the universal dimension of the struggle against the death penalty and the progress to be made together. In that respect, the Oslo Conference looks promising.