8th World Congress against the Death Penalty

World Congress Against the Death Penalty

Remarks by the EU Special Representative for Human Rights

15 November 2022, Berlin



“Thank you very much, and thank you for the invitation and to the organisers for having us here.

Let me start by saying that the European Union is opposed to the death penalty in all and every circumstances. No exceptions, no exemptions. Because, it is an affront to human dignity, because it does not work in terms of reducing crime or being a deterrent. It does not effectively combat terrorism and other issues, and of course, it is irreversible.

The abolition of the death penalty is a fundamental part of the EU’s foreign and security policy. It is reflected in our Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy, which is our guidebook. And we promote it in the international fora.

You ask, what is the role of the international community and in the international fora. I think we saw it last week, when we saw the resolution of the third committee of the United Nations, 127 countries voting in favour. I think the last time that resolution went to the third committee it was 122. We are gradually seeing more countries in favour of a moratorium, and fewer countries actually carrying out execution. We are seeing progress.

In addition to the United Nations, we also work with the Council of Europe on the World Day Against the Death Penalty. We issued a joint statement with the Council of Europe. We also work with the OSCE and other regional organisations; the African Union, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the American Commission, ASEAN. We work with all of those.

What do we do specifically? We have a set of guidelines. This is not just a document, this is a blueprint if you like on how all our delegations – EU Delegations in over 140 countries – work together with the embassies of our Member States in promoting our opposition to the death penalty.

And that means, for example, that in individual countries, we go on demarches and we talk with governments, we raise particular cases, sometimes make public statements, and use our diplomatic channels in that way.

We also use our trade mechanisms. In our trade preferences, the scheme which allows access to the European market. We use that to encourage not just the ratification of the second protocol of the ICCPR [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights] but also its implementation.

In the work that I do, for example, which is essentially talking with governments about human rights. If I can give some examples from the last couple of months: I was in Indonesia, where I was interested to hear about the plans that they have to introduce a pause on the carrying out of executions for a period of 10 years. In Egypt, I talked with the government about reducing the number of penalties to which the death penalty applies. In the United States, we talked with our friends about the abolition of the death penalty. In Saudi Arabia, we talked about not executing minors and, also not using it for drug-related offences. And I must say, I deplore the executions last week of three people for drug-related offences in that country.

In addition, we work very closely with civil society. We are a co-sponsor, for example, of this event and we also co-sponsored it in 2019. We also provide funding for civil society through our global funding mechanisms. We are currently funding projects in 21 different countries, some of which is about the training of judges, some of which is about advocacy – all of it, promoting the abolition of the death penalty.We approach that in a way in which we intend to be helpful. Let me just say this to you, and in particular to the Minister of Malawi and Tajikistan. I was a member of the national parliament of my country, Ireland, when we abolished the death penalty in law. It was only 30 years ago. And I have heard the arguments of deterrence; it was during a period that we had a terrorist problem in our country. And I’ve heard the arguments that have been through all of these. I think that there are many ways in which we can help each other to overcome the obstacles and difficulties in either, introducing a moratorium or the legal abolition of the death penalty in different countries. The EU is certainly willing to do that.

Final point, to Debra and to the other survivors of the death row who are here in our audience. Debra made a plea to us: Don’t stop. I want to say back to her: until the death penalty is abolished, we will not stop.”