Opening speech by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at the 8th World Congress Against the Death Penalty

15.11.2022 - Speech

On behalf of the German Minister of Justice Marco Buschmann and myself, I would like to welcome you not only to Berlin, but also to this gorgeous venue.

We did not choose it by coincidence, but on purpose – because this house and its music reflect what we are here for today: to celebrate life.

As of today, more than 50 states still carry out the death penalty.

Among those states are countries from North to South, from East to West, small countries, large countries, democracies and dictatorships.

We see with great concern how authoritarian regimes use the death penalty to repress political opponents more and more.

They are not carrying out the death penalty for severe crimes such as murder – but they are using it against people simply expressing their feelings such as who they love, people expressing their opinions or celebrating freedom and life, for example with music and dancing.

Belarus this year expanded the list of crimes punishable with the death penalty – to threaten the opposition in the country.

Iran is executing hundreds of people every year according to Amnesty International – including members of the LGBTQI community simply for who they love.

This weekend, we received reports that the regime has issued a first death sentence against a person who took part in the protests after the death of Mahsa Amini, who simply wished to live in freedom like many others. And the regime is threatening many more protestors with the death penalty.

We have left no doubt about what we think of the regime’s brutal repression against its own people. That is why yesterday, as EU Foreign Ministers, we put in place further targeted sanctions against those in Tehran who are responsible.

China, for its part, does not publish official numbers on executions. However, human rights organisations estimate that there are thousands of executions every year – more than in all other countries still using the death penalty taken together.

As brutal as all this is – fortunately, the countries who still execute their own citizens are a shrinking minority. Almost 100 states have abolished the death penalty in the course of the last 50 years. And more and more states have abolished it recently:

Sierra Leone did so last year. Minister Tarawalley, I applaud you for this courageous move. I also applaud Liberia and Zambia for embarking on the path of abolition, with respective laws in Parliament. And I am most delighted that Minister Kemayah of Liberia and Minister Haimbe of Zambia are with us today to report on these important steps for your countries.

The progress the world has made towards ending capital punishment is no natural outcome of history, however. It needs political leadership and often determination.

We owe this progress to the work of so many activists, attorneys, artists, journalists and parliamentarians, who have championed this cause with great courage.

There is one NGO in particular that has pioneered this message around the globe: “Ensemble contre la peine de mort”, the organisers of this Congress. Aminata Niakaté and Raphaël Chenuil-Hazan, thank you for your dedication, your courage and your excellent collaboration!

All of you here in this room know that abolishing the death penalty is more than difficult. We see that in the variety of countries that still use it – from Indonesia to Japan, from India to parts of the United States.

Public opinion often supports capital punishment. And we all understand the pain of women and men who have been victims of horrific crimes you hardly can imagine – of mothers or fathers whose children have been brutally murdered, raped or abused. We understand how much they wish for the guilty to be punished. It is difficult to mobilise parliamentary majorities against the death penalty.

And I want to state this very clearly – and I think we all share this view: there is no question that severe crimes require severe punishment. But no matter how horrible a crime, no matter how deep the pain, we must not pay like with like. We must not take life for a life.

Because that goes against our firm belief in the very dignity of life. It goes against the core values we believe in. The values that unite us here today in all our wonderful diversity: through the European Convention on Human Rights and its 13th Protocol, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Abolition of the Death Penalty, and the Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Capital punishment goes against the very belief in reason and human dignity that our societies are built upon – whether we hail from Europe, Africa, Asia or Latin America.

Moreover, the death penalty is ineffective in deterring crime, as research and statistics show. The death penalty reflects inequality and discrimination because it affects minorities, the marginalised and the poor more than others. And the death penalty is irreversible, while all justice systems make mistakes. A life wrongfully taken is gone forever.

Still, we know that abolition is a very sensitive issue – it deeply affects countries’ national policies and their judicial systems. That is why we are coming together here not to lecture – but to listen and to learn from each other:

To learn from journalists reporting on executions to show audiences favouring the death penalty how cruel it is to kill a person with a lethal injection – and what this does to those administering it.

To learn from politicians using step-by-step approaches to move forward on abolition – from reducing the number of crimes punishable with the death penalty to imposing moratoria on executions.

And to learn from civil society activists how to best run a campaign for abolition – by lobbying parliamentarians, by organising role plays at schools, by collecting testimonies from individuals who have spent decades on death row for a crime they did not commit.

We need this discussion. We need this Congress and the dedication of you all. We need it for one simple reason:

to move forward towards outlawing capital punishment around the globe.

To walk ahead together on the path of humanity.


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