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Thank you very much, Mr Vice-President [of the European Parliament], and thank you for hosting us today in the hemicycle.
I think that the role of the European Parliament and the role of National Parliaments worldwide is really crucial to this work that we are, together, trying to achieve.
I would like to thank the Belgian Government, all my colleagues on stage, in the first row, and all of you who are spending your lives, your days and nights, for something that is probably the most precious thing that exists - the protection of human life.
It is an honour for the European Union to host the [7th] World Congress Against the Death Penalty and, we Europeans, we in the European Union, are proud to be the world largest space that is free from death penalty.
We often say that our Union is about values, but we sometimes forget to spell out these European and universal values. One of them is the value of human life.
We in the European Union believe, and I believe everyone in this room shares this, that every human life matters – no matter how it is used, no matter how many mistakes a person makes. We believe that a State should never dispose of the life of a human being. We believe that the response to a crime must never be another crime. We have moved beyond the idea of "an eye for an eye". We believe in justice, not in revenge.
Everyone in this room shares these beliefs. Many of you have invested your whole life and continue to invest your whole life in support of this cause.
For me personally, it is a pleasure, an honour and also an emotion to be here. Because when I still was the Italian Foreign Minister in 2014, I campaigned for a moratorium on death penalty, and we all celebrated when the United Nations voted for it at the end of 2014.
I am proud to represent the European Union today. We Europeans have agreed together that capital punishment is incompatible with who we are. It goes against our fundamental values and beliefs. No country that still foresees the death penalty can become a member of the European Union.
There is another thing that brings us here today, and binds us together. We all believe that progress is always possible, and we believe that positive change requires a personal and collective commitment, and this is why we are here.
The story of the World Congress is the best proof that change is indeed happening and possible. The 1st World Congress against the Death Penalty took place in another capital of the European Union in 2001, in Strasbourg. Since then, 31 new countries have decided to abolish the capital punishment.
More and more people around the world are realising that death penalty is never the good choice. More and more governments are taking action, and this is thanks to people like you in this room – with your campaigns, your work, your dedication, and also with the power of your stories.
The last year gives us hope. In January 2018, The Gambia's President [Adama Barrow] declared a moratorium. In May last year, Burkina Faso abolished death penalty in law. In June last year, Benin scraped death penalty from the penal code, and the Palestinian Authority acceded to the UN protocol against death penalty. In August last year, the Catholic Church declared death penalty inadmissible in all circumstances, with no exception, sending in this way a very powerful message to Catholic believers all around the world. In October, the State of Washington became the 20th abolitionist State in the US. Last but not least, in December, the UN Resolution calling for the universal moratorium on executions was voted by the largest ever majority of countries. 2018 was a positive year change, almost every single month, we had a good and encouraging news. Let us try to have a 2019 that is even better than 2018 in terms of positive results.
Yet the number of executed people remains tragically high. For this reason, we continue to work to save more lives – through our support to civil society, through resolutions at the UN, and through direct engagement with all those countries that still have the death penalty and, especially, those that sentence the highest number of people.
We know that many people and governments do not share our same principles – although I believe that the value of human life is a universal value, shared by all cultures and all religions.
But beyond values, there are powerful arguments against death penalty that are purely based on rationality, on logic. You all know them but I believe it is important to tell these things again and again. First, death penalty is not a deterrent to crime, and second, there is no coming back once an innocent’s life has been taken.
Let me start from the first one: the example of Canada is very telling. Canada abolished death penalty in 1976. Since then, Canadian murder rates have been on a steady decline. The theory that capital punishment is necessary to prevent crime has simply no foundation in real data.
As for the second point, we all know that it is impossible to eliminate errors in any justice system as it is impossible to eliminate mistakes in life, we are human beings, we do mistakes. In these days, you will hear the stories of many survivors, who risked to be killed, and who were proved innocent, and are now powerful advocates of the abolition.
I will share with you the story of Randy Steidl – who was sentenced to death in Illinois in the 1980s. In 2003, the Governor of Illinois commuted all death sentences into life sentences, and only after that, Randy managed to prove his innocence and to be released. As a free man, he campaigned for a complete abolition of the death penalty in his State, and success arrived just a few years later.
We need to tell and to listen to these stories, and through them, we need to work to change the culture and the mind-set of those who still support the death penalty. Because cultures and attitudes can change, even when they seem too deep and too rooted, even when change seems impossible to achieve. Look back – as you said – where Europe was only two decades ago and where we are now on death penalty, on human rights. You would realise that, whenever they tell you that the reason why changes are impossible is that something is rooted in culture. Well, culture changes as well, and legislation can help culture to change, and culture can help legislation to change.
Today is not only about governments or International Organisations. Today is about individuals who are still suffering in death rows. It is about those who survived, and are now telling the world about the injustice of capital punishment.
Today is about all of us, all of you – Civil Society Organisations and Human Rights Defenders – who are engaged every single day to make death penalty a memory of the past. You know that you can constantly count on the support of the European Union.
Today we are here to make your voice, our voice heard. I am convinced that, little by little - but not too slowly - we can get closer to our common goal, of a world where crime is met with justice, not with vengeance, and where human life is finally a universal value, universally respected and protected.
I thank you very much.
Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I166891