May 31, 2007
A Life Defending Lives
Julio Godoy, IPS News
PARIS - In 2000, when French journalist and publisher Michel Taube founded
'Ensemble contre la peine de mort' (Together against the death penalty), his
vision was that the group would become a world voice in the fight for the
universal abolition of capital punishment.
Few at that time shared his conviction. France had abolished the death
penalty back in 1981 and at that time capital punishment stirred only mild
controversy. Protests over death sentences and executions were often
sporadic and focused on far-away countries, such as China, Vietnam and the
Within seven years the association has become a major global force in the
campaign for death penalty abolition. It has organised three world
congresses, the latest in Paris in February attended by some 600 experts. It
counts among its members renowned international personalities, including the
former French minister of justice Robert Badinter, under whose moral
leadership France abolished capital punishment, and human rights activist
Since 2002, the world has celebrated World Day Against the Death Penalty on
Oct. 10. This is due to the initiative of the World Coalition Against the
Death Penalty, which Taube also heads. This coalition focuses global
attention on the death penalty issue, stimulating international debate and
supporting campaigners against capital punishment.
Taube, born in 1967 in the Alsatian city of Colmar, is also a presence at
conferences and discussions on capital punishment in Africa, Asia, and Latin
America. In mid-May, he took part in a symposium in Morocco, organised by
local human rights groups in association with Amnesty International,
pressing King Mohammed VI to finally abolish capital punishment.
"The decision of the Moroccan government to abolish the death penalty would
be a great step towards the consolidation of the democratic modernisation of
the country," Taube said in Rabat.
On that occasion, Taube noted that 31 African nations have already abolished
the death penalty -- well over half the countries on that continent. The
battle now was to see capital punishment banned in the rest.
Taube has been working as a journalist since the early 1990s, and directed a
publishing house in his native country between 1998 and 2002. But his main
call has always been the defence of human rights: He is member of the UNESCO
association of human rights and the International League against Racism and
Anti-Semitism and author of several books about his campaigns, including
"Open Letter to Americans for the Abolition of the Death Penalty".
"We want to promote the universal abolition of the death penalty through a
global political view, blending a humane conception of penal justice and the
defence of human rights," Taube said in an interview. "Our aim is to
universalise the validity of human rights."
His critics often accuse him of over-emphasising the rights of the offenders
while ignoring the suffering of the victims and their relatives. They say
his arguments dismissing execution as a preventive measure are academic and
do not match the real world.
Taube responds that among the most passionate opponents of the death penalty
in Europe are relatives of the victims of the gravest crimes. He also cites
statistics that show that the death penalty in the U.S. has not deterred
But his opposition to the death penalty goes beyond these arguments. It is
rooted in a philosophical stand on crime, punishment, and legal values in a
"European history shows that, paradoxically, it was the confrontation with
the worst political horrors and the most barbaric crimes that gave birth to
the reasons for abolishing the death penalty," Taube says. "In Central and
Eastern Europe, abolition became obvious and politically viable after the
demise of the communist totalitarian regimes. Similarly, the death penalty
disappeared from the legal horizon in Spain and Portugal after the end of
the right-wing dictatorships of (Francisco) Franco and (Antonio de Oliveira)
"Only a state which is able to control its own power, a democratic state, is
able to renounce the death penalty," he says.
"When a state condemns a person to death it is saying: it is enough to
punish a crime, the state does not need to bother with solving the reasons
for the crime. A death sentence is a confession to a failure of justice.
Justice becomes an instrument of vengeance, instead of a means to
re-establish a peaceful social order."
Taube also underlines that such arguments against the death penalty appear
to be gathering supporters worldwide over the last seven years. The number
of countries which have abolished the death penalty is steadily rising and
the cases of executions dramatically falling.
"When France abolished the death penalty in 1981, there were only other 36
countries around the globe which had done the same," Taube recalls. "Today,
25 years later, there are 97 countries which have officially banned the
death penalty from their penal systems and there are more than 20 other
countries which have ceased to apply it for more than 10 years."
As another illustration, Taube said that in the whole of Europe only Belarus
applies the death penalty. In Latin America only Cuba and Guatemala have not
yet abolished it. But capital punishment is applied massively in
undemocratic regimes in Asia and Africa.
But Taube does not forget that some democracies, such as Japan and the
United States, continue to apply the death penalty, impervious to arguments
and moral appeals from Europe.
"In Japan, executions are shrouded in the deepest of silence. Public opinion
there is also completely insensitive to the international debates on the
issue," Taube says.
On the other hand, the public perception of the death penalty in the U.S. is
changing for the better, he says.
"Now, there are better U.S. lawyers trained in the defence of people
condemned to death and there are fewer executions than a couple of years
ago," Taube says. "Even if the U.S. society continues to avoid discussing
the possibility of a general abolition, a quiet evolution has been taking
place in the courts and thus some lives have been saved."
But Taube admits that no such evolution has taken place in most of the Arab
and Muslim world. That is why, he says, that the celebration of the World
Day Against the Death Penalty this year, on Oct. 10, will focus on
supporting the campaign to abolish capital punishment in these regions of
Source : IPS News