Delegation of the European Union to the
UN and other international organisations in Geneva

Event: Killing in the name of justice? The death penalty in the 21st century

21/10/2016 - 00:00
News stories

To mark the World Day against the Death Penalty, the EU Delegation to the UN in Geneva, CinéONU, Amnesty International and the Geneva Film Festival on Human Rights (FIFDH) organised on 20 October a thematic film and debate evening. The 2015 British mystery documentary 'The fear of 13' tells a story of Nick Yarris, who spent over 20 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit. The screening was followed by a debate with Mr. Yarris himself, as well as with Ms. Ruth Dreifuss, former President of the Swiss Federation and Member of the International Commission against the Death Penalty. Ms. Manon Schick, Director of Amnesty International Switzerland, moderated the discussion.

"The Death Penalty is a cruel and inhumane practice that has no place in the 21st century," said Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva Michael Møller in his introductory speech. "We are concerned by the apparent rebirth of the death penalty, particularly in the face of terrorism."  It is "a method where errors of judgement can irreversibly punish the innocent."


"I am proud to say that the European Union, for many years, has been steadfast in our push for the abolition of the death penalty," declared Peter Sørensen, Head of Delegation of the European Union, also stating that "the death penalty is incompatible with human dignity and has no proven significant deterrent effect ." 


To open the panel discussion after the screening, Manon Schick asked Nick Yarris how it was possible not to "go crazy" in the face of an unjust condemnation to death. "Everybody is under a death sentence" responded Mr. Yarris, "but in my case the state of Pennsylvania gave me the courtesy of telling me when it would be carried out." 


In her first remarks, Ruth Dreifuss said that "there is no internationally recognised rule that outlaws the death penalty. That is the level we need to fight on." She specified that "both slavery and torture were outlawed, but murder has not been outlawed by any international binding text." To this Mr. Yarris added that, "nobody would have believed that slavery would become illegal at the time," affirming that in his opinion "good is always going to win"


Further underlining the urgency of the abolition of the death penalty, Nick Yarris said that "the people being executed are the weakest people on the planet, they are the least likely to defend themselves socially and economically," and that "the death penalty is a reflection of our inability to deal with each other." Finally, Mr. Yarris confirmed that it was debates like this one that had helped him "heal" from what he had to go through.


In the framework of #EU4HumanRights