Celebration of the 15th World Day against Death Penalty

Stéphanie RIVOAL, Ambassador of France for the EU October 10th 2017

Dear Atillio Pacifici, Ambassador of the European Union Delegation, Dear Livingstone Sewanyana, Director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, Dear Honourable, Dear Human Rights Activists,

 Ladies and Gentlemen

 15 years. Yes, today marks the 15th World Day against Death Penalty. 15 years of active work of awareness. 15 years of worldwide advocacy. 15 years of improvements, celebrations, supports, campaigns, prison visits…

And, yet, 15 years later, in the 21st century, the World Day against the Death Penalty still exists because the Death Penalty still exists too.

 So, what is one more speech is going to achieve exactly?

 Maybe nothing. But I hope not. Because I Stéphanie Rivoal, as a human being, as an Ambassador, as a member of my European Union Family, will never stop making speeches until that crual and inhuman punishment stops once and for all.

The purpose of speeches is to share a message through a voice. Today, it is not only one voice but many voices coming from the maximum security prison of Luzira, from the songs of women and men on the death row, many voices of the condemned of Uganda that are resonating on this day.

 Their songs spoke of redemption, of forgiveness, of second chances.

So, I, as a fellow human being to the condemned, to the inmates, shall talk today about redemption, about forgiveness, about second chance. I shall talk on their behalf about life.

 I have to tell you that I did not always think this way. Indeed, when I was a teenager, I was in favor of the death penalty, I thought it was necessary for the worst crimes, like rape and murder of children.

Now I changed my mind. Why? You might think. Because I reflected on it, I witnessed the life in prison during my visits in France and Uganda. I met the people on the death row or on life imprisonment. I met murderers, thieves, drug traffickers. And I did not see monsters. I saw People. I saw human beings.

 Now, I believe in redemption and forgiveness. And I feel so much better about myself. Now, I know that Death Penalty is not the answer.

 A French politician called Jean Jaurès, a Christian, said in the 19th Century: «Death penalty is contrary to the highest aims, the most noble dreams that humanity had over the last 2 000 years. It is contrary to both with the spirit of Christianity and the spirit of Revolution”.

And indeed, the holly books, the best-selling books in the world, are true testimony to that spirit.

The Bible, on numerous occasions, showed that God had mercy.

For instance, David said to God: “I am in a deep distress. Let us fall into the hand of Lord, for his mercy is great, but do not let me fall into human hands”. He was guilty of adultery and murder, God did not make him pay for his crimes with his life. (Samuel 24-14)

Ugandans are religious people, be it Christian, Muslim, Jewish. God showed his love by not condemning us. So why should we, humans, we, sinners, condemn other fellow humans? Why not forgive and offer help, instead of condemning?

Men are sinners, they kill one another but society, government shall rise above the condition of a fallible man and find in itself the superior strength to forgive and to redeem.

Jean Jacques Rousseau, a French philosopher also from the 18th century, said about government and the use of force: “In any case, frequent punishments are a sign of weakness or slackness in the government. There is no man so bad that he cannot be made good for something. No man should be put to death, even as an example, if he can be left to live without danger to society.”

To govern in a peaceful and democratic country such as Uganda, there is no need to use excessive force, there is no need to condemn criminals to death.

There is a need for justice, there is a need for redemption.

Today, I dare say that Death penalty is institutionalized murder. Not only death penalty is institutionalized murder but waiting on death row has been recognized as torture, it is an inhuman, and degrading treatment. It is also an ineffective punishment.

In truth, does the death penalty prevent crime?

It may sound like common sense but all statistics said the capital punishment does not prevent suicide bombers. It does not even prevent crime as people simply think that they will never get caught. They all think they committed the perfect crime.

When the debate started in France in 1981, the Minister of Justice, Robert Badinter said: “History has shown there is a type of crime that never shied away from the threat of death: it is the political crime.”. Death penalty means nothing to those who are ready to die.

What about crime of passion? Is someone going to reflect on the fear of death before he or she commits a crime? What about a woman killing her husband who is repeatedly beating her until she fears for her life? For her, the choice is simple: it is death or death.

Does death penalty allow victims to get reparation?

To every crime, there shall be a price. But the death of the criminal will never bring back the loved ones, it does not lower the pain by one iota.

The death of the criminal is not giving anything back but it is taking something away. It forbids any possible redemption, any possible regret, and the soothing feeling of forgiveness.

 

What jail time without the death penalty can do is to provide a time and space to reflect on one’s crime, to find in oneself love instead of hate, to reach redemption. Who are we to say that one does not get a second chance?

The death penalty is not justice, the death penalty is not prevention, the death penalty is not reparation. It is only revenge.

Finally, what about the killing of an innocent?

In the USA, since the 70’s, 4% of the people condemned to death were innocent. All criminal justice systems are vulnerable to discrimination and error. Hundreds have been put to death only to be recognized as innocent victims afterwards. Some of them were killed because they were not educated enough to understand the procedure, or because there were too poor to get legal assistance. The slightest chance of killing an innocent is in itself reason enough to abolish the death penalty.

 

The abolition of the death penalty is a choice of society, a choice based on the respect for life and human dignity. It is a moral choice, it is a political choice. Here in Uganda, it is YOUR choice.

 

On Twitter, some Ugandans said: “we still need it”. Or “we have more urgent matters to deal with.”

To them, I would like to say:

“You do not need it. Law and order can be obtained without killing fellow Ugandans, your brothers, your sisters. If one day you find yourself on the death row for a crime you did or did not commit, you will know that I am right.”

To the other, I would like to say:

“If matters of social progress had only been dealt with after economic or political issues, after dealing with corruption or growth for example, women like myself would still not have the right to drive, still not have the right to work, still not have the right to vote. I, as a woman, personally thank the courageous politicians who pushed through social progress despite the burden of their political agenda.”

So no, Uganda does not need it and yes, now is the time to abolish it.

I would like to thank the organizers, Foundation for Human Rights Initiatives, Livingstone, Lucy, for orchestrating and hosting this important event today. The Embassy of France is happy to have contributed to its special day.

I salute the moratorium de facto of where no execution has been carried out since 2009. But this is not enough.

Together with my colleagues from the European Union, we shall be by the side of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, by the side of the Prison services, who support it, by the side of the Uganda Human Rights Commission, to relentlessly demand that the Amendment Bill to mitigate penalties in criminal matters and change death penalty to life sentence pass in parliament immediately.

But we want more. Your fight is for the abolition of the Death Penalty in Uganda and we shall support you until it is obtained.

 

Because, once again, abolishing the death penalty is affirming respect for human life and dignity.

 

“It always seems impossible until it is done.” said the great Nelson Mandela. It is a blessing that he was never condemned to death, although it was close back in 1964 when he was jailed for life, because otherwise, you would have to agree with me that History would have taken a very different turn.

So, yes, it may seem like it but the abolition of the death penalty in Uganda is not impossible and we shall fight with you until it is done.

 

Thank you for your attention

About Us

The Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) is an independent, non-governmental, non-partisan and not-for-profit human rights advocacy organization established in December 1991. It seeks to remove impediments to democratic development and meaningful enjoyment of the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the 1995 Uganda Constitution and other internationally recognized human rights instruments. .

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