World needs 'brave leaders' advocating an end to death penalty, activist says
A leading Catholic activist opposed to capital punishment said public opinion can change and "we need brave leadership" to advocate against the death penalty.
A large crowd gathers before the Way of the Cross outside the Colosseum in Rome April 15, 2022. The Colosseum was once a place where Christians were killed by lions and gladiators fought deadly battles, and today, it often serves as a symbol of life in a global campaign against the death penalty. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
ROME (CNS) -- The world needs courageous leaders who will fight for abolishing the death penalty even when there is no clear majority against it, said a leading Catholic activist opposed to capital punishment.
"There is never a magic moment to abolish the death penalty," said Mario Marazziti, who leads the Rome-based Sant'Egidio Community's campaign against the death penalty.
"We never truly have a majority when it comes to consensus," he said March 1, but public opinion can change and "we need brave leadership, brave leaders that can take up this path even when there is disagreement or when there is no clear majority."
Marazziti, who also is co-founder of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, was one of a number of speakers attending the International Congress of Justice Ministers in Rome March 1-2.
Dedicated to the theme "No Justice Without Life," it was the 13th such congress organized by the Sant'Egidio Community since 2005.
The congress brings together ministers of justice and activists from countries that have formally abolished the death penalty and those that are somewhere along a path toward abolition, such as by having declared a moratorium on capital punishment that blocks or suspends further executions even while the death penalty remains legal. The aim is to help government, religious and human rights representatives share best practices for effective, alternative responses to violent crimes and for supporting prisoners, victims of crime, human dignity and all human life.
Currently, more than two-thirds of the world's countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice and 56 nations still retain and implement the death penalty. The Central African Republic and Zambia are the most recent countries to have abolished capital punishment.
Mulambo Haimbe, minister of justice of the Republic of Zambia, attended the congress and shared news that the country's president had just signed pardons for all 390 inmates on death row.
"It is our hope, prayer and belief that by taking the bold steps that we have as a republic we will be a beacon of hope to all persons that potentially face the death sentence anywhere in the world and particularly on the continent of Africa," he said.
After having a moratorium in place for the past 25 years, he said, "only now do we have a government that has been brave enough to ... make sure our laws reflect our ideals."
Haimbe said a very important part of their efforts is to find the best ways to support victims of deadly crimes. The anti-death penalty movement "should never be blind to the suffering of the victims and the need for appropriate societal measures to help them find closure" and healing.
They also are looking for how to help law enforcement and police be able to recognize the root causes of and help curb the incidences of some of the most common serious offenses, particularly aggravated robbery and murder, he said.
Bibata Nebie Ouédraogo, minister of justice and human rights of Burkina Faso, told congress participants how her country fostered open debate about the death penalty and slowly implemented restrictions on its use, such as excluding the death sentence for minors. Now, judicial executions are only allowed in cases of a war crime conviction.
She said one challenge they are facing now is that the rise of terrorist attacks in their country and worsening humanitarian emergencies have led some people to support or consider as acceptable the death penalty as a punishment for terrorist crimes.
She said through an interpreter they are open to listening to all sides of the debate, "but we are convinced ... that the people in Burkina Faso really care about human rights" and protecting life.
"So even if some people believe that the answer to give to certain crimes could be the death penalty, we are firmly convinced by the fact that the judicial response we should give to everything we are experiencing, terrorist attacks and the like, should never, never include the possibility of taking someone's life regardless of the crimes they have committed," Nebie Ouédraogo said.
International gatherings for those advocating abolition are "essential for countries like ours that have to rise up to huge challenges because this gives us the opportunity also to see the commitment of others," she said.
Such events are "a source of inspiration for us, they are reassuring, telling us that we are on the right path," seeking answers and responses that must always be based on the respect for life, she said.