11th World Day against the Death Penalty

JPEG - 36.8 kb
Mr. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs, chaired the high level ministerial meeting : “ Death penalty: the role of regional organizations in the fight for abolition” – New York- 27 September 2013.
New York - 27 septembre 2013 - Franceonu Photo / Martin Loper

1. Joint call for the abolition of the death penalty (10th October 2013)

Justice that kills is not justice. Convinced of the inherent inhumanity of the death penalty, the 42 countries represented here oppose its use under any circumstances anywhere in the world. The death penalty is not only an intolerable affront to human dignity, its use goes hand in hand with numerous violations of the human rights of the condemned and their families.

Moreover, capital punishment has no positive impact on crime prevention or security and does not in any way repair the harm done to the victims and their families. Armed with these convictions, we take the opportunity presented by the 11th World Day against the Death Penalty to reiterate our unrelenting dedication to the abolition movement in Europe and all over the world.

The aim of our appeal is not to deliver a lecture, but to share our experience as well as our conviction. If the history of the abolition of the death penalty in our various countries has taught us anything, it is that the path is long and hard.

Capital punishment was not repealed overnight. Its abolition became a reality only as a result of increasing awareness and constant collective effort. It was through perseverance and in gradual stages that the number of executions fell, the list of crimes punishable by death was narrowed, justice became more transparent, de facto moratoriums on executions were established and that – finally – the death penalty disappeared. It is this process that countries that still carry out executions in the name of justice must go through.

The determination needed to achieve abolition of the death penalty must come from states as well as from individuals, and this is also the message of today’s joint appeal. The path to the abolition of the death penalty was not taken by closed societies or countries cut off from the rest of the world. That the death penalty has been all but abolished in Europe today is thanks to informed debate and a fluid exchange of ideas between our countries and societies.

The Council of Europe and the European Convention on Human Rights have acted as catalysts for this regional trend away from the death penalty, and have even allowed it to spread further afield. The entry into force of Protocol 13 to the said convention (Protocol concerning the abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances) 10 years ago is a prime example. Today, we represent 42 of the 44 states that have ratified Protocol 13 and urge all of the member states of the Council of Europe who have not yet done so to join us. We strongly urge the last State in Europe still applying the capital punishment to join a global moratorium on the death penalty as a first step towards its abolition.

The case of Europe illustrates the fundamental role played by regional and multilateral organizations in advancing the cause of abolition. The abolition of the death penalty in many American, African and Asian states exemplifies the universal character of this fight. It also demonstrates the need for a strong political signal, as well as the participation of the whole of society in these efforts. In this spirit, we must use the momentum of the 5th World Congress against the death penalty which took place in Madrid in June this year.

We recall these principles today because we are entering a crucial phase in the process of abolishing the death penalty worldwide. Today, only about 50 countries still allow capital punishment, whereas twenty years ago it was almost twice as many. As the resolutions of the United Nations show, a growing majority of States support the establishment of a universal moratorium on death penalty.

This positive trend allows us to imagine the next generations to live in a world without capital punishment and spurs us on in our common efforts to support countries on the path to its universal abolition.

2. A French commitment

The death penalty is not justice, it is a failure of justice. The death penalty is not a useful instrument for fighting crime. The loss of human life it entails is irreparable, and no legal system is immune from miscarriages of justice. Resorting to the death penalty is not a mere instrument of criminal policy, it is a violation of human rights.

Just as, in every country, committed people exist whose names are associated with a cause, so too do states exist which are committed to universal struggles within the community of nations. Everyone knows how much the abolition of the death penalty owes to the determination of Victor Hugo, Albert Camus and Robert Badinter. Today, France occupies a special and recognized position among the main states committed to fighting the death penalty.

The abolition of the death penalty is a highly symbolic cause which reminds us of the universal nature of human rights. Support for abolition is making progress on all continents, independently of the type of political regime, level of development and cultural heritage.

Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs, has decided to further this struggle by actively engaging French diplomacy worldwide in a campaign to abolish the death penalty.

On the ground, each French embassy is mobilized:
— through general approaches or through efforts relating to individual cases, in order to reaffirm France’s opposition to the death penalty, everywhere and under all circumstances.
— by organizing events, conferences, film screenings and debates wherever capital punishment is still implemented, in order to further the campaign and support the players committed to the cause of abolition.

France’s efforts complement those of civil society. Our action everywhere is complementary to that of the foundations and NGOs involved in combating the death penalty. By setting as her target the global abolition of the death penalty – not just a moratorium on it – France is demonstrating high aspirations for human rights in her foreign policy.

For a United Nations resolution on a universal moratorium. Within the United Nations, France is promoting the adoption of a General Assembly resolution calling for the introduction of a global moratorium on the death penalty. At the Human Rights Council, France is seizing every opportunity to encourage all states which implement the death penalty to abolish it.

3. Launch of the campaign

  • 27 September, United Nations General Assembly LAUNCH OF AN INTERNATIONAL COALITION FOR ABOLITION

On France’s initiative, there will be an event bringing together representatives of dozens of states and of civil society, in New York this Thursday on the sidelines of the ministerial week. The theme of the event will be “The death penalty: from moratorium to abolition”.

Jointly organized with the Republic of Benin, which has just abolished it, and ahead of the General Assembly’s examination of the resolution on establishing a moratorium, the meeting will be an opportunity to hold talks and lay the foundations for a global coalition of states in favour of abolition.


On the eve of the World Day Against the Death Penalty, which is held on 10 October each year, France is bringing together a the Quai d’Orsay players and defenders in abolition from all over the world.

Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs, will launch the event at 6 p.m. alongside Robert Badinter, presidents and representatives of the large NGOs, intellectuals and lawyers.

At 6.30 p.m., workshops will be held in the rooms of the Quai d’Orsay. They will be an opportunity for discussions between French and international NGOs, diplomats working on the ground and condemned people’s lawyers from several countries.

At 7.30 p.m., Olivier Py will read extracts of The Last Day of a Condemned Man, before the speech by Robert Badinter.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs will conclude the meetings at 7.50 p.m.

4. Our diplomatic network’s active role

Our entire diplomatic network is actively engaged in the campaign.

At the end of the summer, during the Ambassadors’ Conference in Paris, Laurent Fabius launched a comprehensive mobilization of our diplomatic, consular and cultural network.

Embassies situated in countries that have not yet abolished the death penalty have been called upon, depending on local opportunities and contexts, to issue statements, organize events and take steps vis-à-vis the authorities to make progress towards the goal of abolition.

Dozens of initiatives will be launched this year, particularly around the World Day Against the Death Penalty on 10 October. Examples of this unprecedented mobilization will be presented at the Quai d’Orsay during the meetings of 9 October: in Minsk, Nouakchott, Rangoon, Havana and Tokyo, but also at the United Nations in Geneva, where the Human Rights Council meets, our embassies are preparing events and deploying the full range of our influence and advocacy tools to spark debate and reflexion and emphasize the need for abolition.

5. The death penalty worldwide

The fight against the death penalty is a long-term struggle in which tangible progress is made every year in all the world’s regions. A downward trend has been noted in the number of death sentences and executions worldwide. In the past 20 years, more than 50 states have outlawed the death penalty.

In 1981, France became the 36th state to abandon this cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. In 2007, she ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty. Adopted by the United Nations in 1989, the Protocol is the first instrument of global reach to assert that abolishing the death penalty helps promote human dignity and the progressive development of human rights. On 5 July 2012, the Republic of Benin abolished the death penalty by adhering to the Optional Protocol. More than 100 states worldwide have taken the decisive and irreversible step from the moratorium observed for the past several years to outlawing the death penalty.

Many states have been observing de facto moratoriums, sometimes for several decades. What obstacles prevent states moving from moratoriums to abolition? How can the international community help states abandon the death penalty in their judicial systems and thus strengthen the protection of human rights? What role is there for the United Nations, the pro-abolition states and civil society?

— A downward trend has been noted in the number of death sentences and executions worldwide. In the past 20 years, more than 50 states have outlawed the death penalty.

— To date, 97 states have abolished the death penalty for all crimes, eight have abolished it for ordinary crimes and 36 are observing moratoriums on executions – making a total of 141 states.

— However, the death penalty is still applied in 57 states and territories.

Since 2011, 23 states have carried out executions. While the number of countries carrying out executions is in decline, the latest report by Amnesty International gave a figure of 676 executions in 2011, as compared with 527 in 2010, which shows that the number of executions is increasing in the hard core of retentionist countries: basically Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq. Moreover, the real figure is hard to ascertain in the absence of official statistics in certain states, including China. As for the number of sentences, it has fallen from 2,024 in 2010 to 1,923 in 2011.

— Every year, new countries abolish the death penalty:
Mongolia ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, in January 2012.
Latvia abolished the death penalty for all crimes in January 2012.
Honduras and the Dominican Republic ratified the additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty in November 2011 and January 2012 respectively.
In the United States, Illinois and Connecticut became the 16th and 17th states to abolish capital punishment, in March 2011 and April 2012 respectively.


Despite the hopes raised by the Arab Spring, none of the 22 states in the region have abolished the death penalty. In 2011, at least 558 executions were recorded in eight countries (Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Yemen), including several hundred in Iran, 68 in Iraq and at least 82 in Saudi Arabia, a trend which has continued in 2012. No information is available on the use of the death penalty in Libya in 2011, but many reports cite extrajudicial executions by all the parties in the conflict. The other countries have observed de facto moratoriums for several years (Tunisia since 1991, Morocco and Algeria since 1993, Lebanon since 2004 and Jordan since 2006).

The states counted are not all members of the United Nations – among others, the Cook Islands, the Vatican and Niue – hence the total figure of more than 193.

2 Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Belarus, China, North Korea, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, Gambia, Iraq, Iran, Japan, Malaysia, the Palestinian Authority, Singapore, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, Taiwan, Vietnam and Yemen.


Mongolia abolished the death penalty in March 2012, thus joining Nepal, East Timor, the Philippines and Cambodia as abolitionist states in the region. Several states have observed de facto moratoriums for several years (the Maldives since 1952, Sri Lanka since 1976, Burma since 1988, Laos since 1989, South Korea since 1997, India since 2004). Pakistan has now had a moratorium in force since 2009.

In 2011, eight states carried out executions – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, North Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam – but 18 states issued death sentences. In the absence of official data, it is estimated that there are several thousand executions a year in China. On 29 March 2012, Japan broke a de facto moratorium observed for a year and a half, by hanging three condemned people. The country carried out more executions in August 2012.


A large majority of the American continent is abolitionist. In 2011 and to date, the United States has been the only country in the continent to carry out executions. However, positive results can be seen, with the abolition of the death penalty in Illinois and Connecticut and the introduction of a moratorium in Oregon.

In the rest of the continent, Belize, Cuba, Jamaica, Guatemala, Guyana, Surinam, Trinidad and Tobago and most of the English-speaking Caribbean islands have failed to abolish the death penalty. However, the Commonwealth countries observe a de facto moratorium, following the judgement of the Privy Council in the Pratt and Morgan case, whereby the implementation of the death penalty more than five years after the sentence constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights opposes the death penalty and frequently speaks out against executions in the United States.


Seventeen out of 48 states have outlawed the death penalty and a positive trend has been noted in recent years. In 2009, Togo and Burundi joined the abolitionist states. Benin abolished the death penalty in June 2012 and the Democratic Republic of Congo decided in March 2012 on an “irreversible moratorium” and “gradual abolition”. Bucking this positive trend, Botswana and Gambia carried out executions in 2012.

The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights called for the abolition of the death penalty at its 49th session in 2011.


Belarus remains the only state on the European continent not to have abolished capital punishment. Four people have been executed there since 2011, two of them in March 2012. Russia introduced a moratorium on executions in 1996.

In Europe, Protocols 6 and 13 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms also ban the death penalty in times of peace and war.

(March 2013)

6. French statements

- 10 October 2012 - Joint call for the abolition of the death penalty

7. Latest developments in multilateral organisations

Latest developments in New York

- On 27 September 2013, France organized the second high level ministerial meeting for the universal abolition of death penalty. This year, particular emphasis was placed on the role of regional organizations. The co-organization of this meeting by the States of four different continents (France, Benin, Costa Rica, Mongolia) with the participation of over 40 States and regional organizations, including the European union, the Organization of American States and the Council of Europe, reflected the universality of this fight.

During his speech, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Laurent Fabius, noted setbacks in 2012 with the resuming of executions in some countries. A strong mobilization should be maintained. He welcomed the pionneer’s role of regional organizations in the progressive restriction of the implementation of the death penalty, in view of universal abolition. The action of regional organizations should be complementary of the action carried out by the United Nations, States and civil society. The sharing of experiences and the strengthening of cooperation between abolitionist States and the regional bodies should be reinforced to build on the successes achieved at the United Nations.

- On 20 December 2012, the General Assembly adopted a resolution calling upon Members States that still maintain the death penalty to establish a moratorium on executions, with a view to abolishing it.

The text submitted by France and 90 States, representing the international community in its diversity, has received the support of a large majority of member States.

France welcomes this adoption as well as the growing support within the international community for its fight to abolish death penalty.

Latest developments in Geneva

- On 22 March 2013, France, along with four other partners (Benin, Costa Rica, Moldova and Mongolia), presented to the Council of Human Rights a draft decision in order to create a panel on of death penalty for the March 2014 session of the Council.

With this decision, adopted with a large majority of the Members of the Council, an open debate will soon be held in Geneva, allowing countries to discuss challenges on the way to the universal abolition of the death penalty.

This is the first time that such a debate will be held in the Council, in a formal setting.

Dernière modification : 09/10/2013

top of the page