EU – AU joint event to mark the 21st World Day against the Death Penalty – Video Address

Video Address by the EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore

EU – AU joint event to mark the 21st World Day against the Death Penalty

Tuesday, 10 October 2023


(Watch the video recording here)

Commissioner Bankole Adeoye, Excellences, Ladies and gentlemen, esteemed guests,

Today, the European Union and the African Union join together to mark the 21st World Day against the Death Penalty. We stand united in our unwavering commitment to the fundamental principles of human rights, justice, and the inherent dignity of every individual. At the core of this commitment lies our strong and unequivocal opposition to the death penalty and our willingness to make abolition a universally accepted value.

The European Union’s position on the death penalty is crystal clear: we are against it in all times and under all 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.

We believe that the death penalty is a cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment, wholly incompatible with the inalienable right to life and the sanctity of human dignity.

All EU member states have abolished the death penalty, aligning themselves with the European Convention on Human Rights. Since 1997, no execution has taken place in a member state of the Council of Europe. Over the years, we have strengthened even further our public stance against capital punishment anywhere in the world.

On the African continent, there is a positive trend towards abolition and we warmly welcome the efforts made by our African partners. In recent years, several African countries amended their national legislations and abolished the death penalty. This positive momentum reflects the continent’s commitment to human rights and justice.

We celebrate Ghana’s recent decision to abolish the death penalty and becoming the 124th country worldwide to officially do so, following in the footsteps of Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea and Zambia, which abolished the death penalty last year. Today, 75% of African Union member states have either abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, highlighting the growing consensus in Africa against this inhumane practice.

We commend the African Regional Congress against the Death Penalty, held in Abidjan in April 2018, which reaffirmed support for the abolition of the death penalty in Africa. We also warmly welcome the launch of the ACHPR’s campaign to promote the adoption of the draft Additional Protocol to the African Charter on the abolition of the Death Penalty.

I take this opportunity to encourage all the remaining AU member states, who have not yet done so, to abolish or to consider putting a moratorium on the death penalty in the near future. We understand, it can be a difficult decision to make: because of public opinion, or tradition, or religion, but nevertheless it is still a decision that must be taken for the benefit of all people.

Not so long ago the European Union has travelled a journey to abolition, and we have a concrete experience that we want to share with the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights in support of your efforts to promote the abolition.

In 1983, the European Parliament passed a landmark resolution on the death penalty, marking a pivotal moment in our advocacy for the abolition. This resolution laid the foundation for a series of concerted efforts to build consensus among member states on a joint stance regarding the death penalty.

33 years ago, I was a member of the Parliament, which abolished the death penalty in my home country, Ireland.

The history of EU’s engagement on the abolition of the death penalty is based on our unwavering commitment to the highest standards of human rights. The EU’s foreign policy in this regard is outlined in the EU Guidelines on the Death Penalty, adopted in 1998. This is not just a document, this is a blueprint 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. Through legislation, diplomacy, and partnerships, we have tirelessly worked to create a world where no one faces the ultimate and irreversible punishment. Our approach encompasses various strategies:

First, we have prohibited trade in goods that can be used for torture and execution, using trade policy to encourage compliance with human rights standards.

Second, we are vocal supporters of measures aimed at ending the death penalty at the multilateral level, advocating for its abolition in international forums.

Third, we utilize our political and human rights dialogues to address our concerns regarding the application of the death penalty, engaging in constructive conversations with countries that still practice it.

Civil society remains at the forefront of the global fight against the death penalty. The EU is committed to strengthening partnerships in collaboration with organizations such as the Global Consortium for Death Penalty Abolition, led by the World Coalition against the Death Penalty. These partnerships extend across 53 countries and encompass diverse NGOs with complementary mandates, including advocacy, campaigning, legal representation, and support for exonerees.

This joint EU – AU event is important to build on the increasing cooperation and dialogue between the EU and the AU on human rights issues. I hope all your discussion today will pave the way to future work together on abolishing the death penalty.

I wish you successful deliberations and thank you for your attention.