Monday, 19 February 2007

France inscribes banning of death penalty in constitution

France Inscribes Banning of Death Penalty in Constitution

February 19, 2007

VERSAILLES, France: Senators and lower house lawmakers inscribed the banning of the death penalty in the French Constitution on Monday, one of three measures put to a solemn vote in a constitutional revision and the one gaining the broadest consensus.

The two houses of parliament gathered for the special session at the Palace of Versailles passed the measure 828-26.

However, a text guaranteeing immunity to a sitting head of state — but introducing the possibility of impeachment — stumbled through the solemn vote to pass 449-203 — just above the 392 votes that make up the needed three-fifths majority.

President Jacques Chirac, who has been targeted in probes of illegal party financing, had promised such a law when he was campaigning for re-election in 2002. The measure makes it possible to open impeachment proceedings for "breach of duty manifestly incompatible with the exercising of (the president's) mandate."

A third text easily passed, 724-90, freezing the electoral corps in New Caledonia, seen as a means of guaranteeing civil peace in the overseas department which has experienced episodes of political unrest.

The constitutional revision was seen as a final act for Chirac before the parliamentary session is suspended Friday ahead of the April-May presidential elections.

However, some lawmakers viewed the session at Versailles — where constitutional revisions are voted — as a waste of time and money. Some deputies, notably Segolene Royal and Francois Bayrou — who are both seeking the presidency — did not show up.

Still, emotions were high as the gathering voted to inscribe the banning of the death penalty in the constitution. The death penalty has been outlawed in France since 1981, but not inscribed in the constitution.

"We are accomplishing the wish of Victor Hugo in 1848, the pure, simple, irreversible abolition" of the death penalty, former Justice Minister Robert Badinter told lawmakers. Badinter was the artisan of the banning of the death penalty in 1981, one of the first acts of the 14-year presidency of Socialist Francois Mitterrand.

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