The European and World Day Against the Death Penalty
Saturday, 10 October 2020
Alliance Française Bangkok
Opening Remarks of H.E. Pirkka Tapiola
Ambassador of the European Union to Thailand
Let me start by thanking the Alliance Française Bangkok and the Documentary Club for their partnership. Without them, this event would not be possible.
We are very grateful for support of the Documentary Club. Unfortunately, its founder Khun Tida was unable to join us today, but she and her staff have shown great dedication during the preparation for this event.
I particularly want to welcome colleagues from the EU Member States’ and close partners from other diplomatic missions, especially the Ambassadors of Mexico and Canada, and the representative of the Swiss Embassy. As you know, Mexico and Switzerland are leading the charge this year at the United Nations General Assembly to prepare the Resolution for the Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty. Thank you, Khun Nareeluc Pairchaiyapoom, the Director of the International Human Rights Division at the Ministry of Justice, and members of the media for being here.
Today is the 10th of October, the day established as the European and World Day Against the Death Penalty. I’m happy to see that you all have decided that this subject is important enough on which to spend your Saturday afternoon.
Every year, the European Union organises events around the world to stimulate constructive debate on the need to abolish the death penalty.
That is also our objective in Bangkok today.
We hope that, by bringing the realities of justice into the discussion, we can encourage some of the supporters of capital punishment to really take a closer look at their position.
For us in the European Union, our position is very firm and clear, and I know that our like-minded partners such as Mexico, Switzerland and Canada agree with this. The death penalty is a cruel, inhumane and degrading form of punishment. We are opposed to the death penalty under all circumstances.
The European Union was built on common values. One of these values that we hold dearest is the value of human life and human dignity, - the value of the right to live. Thus, there is no place in our societies for capital punishment.
But even beyond values and identity, there are many powerful arguments against the death penalty – arguments based on rationality and logic, not emotion.
First of all, there is no evidence whatsoever that the death penalty can be an effective deterrent against crimes. Look at crime rates in the EU for example. The number of intentional homicides in the EU-27 continues to drop even though we have not used capital punishment for decades.
A 2018 study of murder data in 11 countries outside the EU that had abolished capital punishment also concluded that abolition did not lead to higher crime rates. In fact, ten of these countries experienced a decline in murder rates in the decade following abolition.
I also strongly believe that violence breeds violence. And the death penalty is one form of violence. So, it cannot be used to quell crimes.
To quote Robert Badinter, the former Minister of Justice of France who strongly pushed for the abolition of the death penalty, criminal passions cannot be deterred by death. There needs to be other ways forward. And he knew what he was talking about. Badinter was a defence lawyer who had had to witness the execution of a client of his. He knew the brutality of it. And he stood up for its abolition.
The documentary that we are about to watch this afternoon also lends strong support to our second argument, which is that executing an innocent human being based on judicial errors is an irreversible tragedy.
If my experience working as a diplomat in many countries has taught me anything, it is that there is no such thing as a perfect justice system, and this includes our own EU Member States. Everywhere in the world, cases of wrongful convictions of individuals, as well as of rich and powerful people escaping justice, are regularly reported.
People convicted of crimes can later be exonerated by new evidence. Our criminal justice systems are run by humans, and humans can make mistakes. It is important that these mistakes, however grave, can still be fixed.
This is one of the topics addressed in the film we are about to watch, Hakamada, which tells the story of the world’s longest-held death row prisoner.
After the film, we will try to shed light on the problems surrounding the death penalty from various angles.
My wife, a psychologist, reminded me that today is also the World Mental Health Day. And you will see what decades of being on death row, not knowing whether you will be executed or not, could do to an individual’s mental health.
I am delighted to have Dr. Namtae Meeboonsalang, the Suphan Buri Provincial Chief Public Prosecutor, here with this us this afternoon. As a practitioner, he will be able to shed light on some of the issues that we face in a justice system that cannot always be perfect.
I personally cannot fathom or morally accept the idea of the State conducting a legal process leading to the extermination of a fellow human being. Our justice system should reflect certain values that we hold dear. Killing another human being is not one of those values.
Another way to look at the death penalty is through the moral lens. Where I come from, “Thou shalt not kill” is a teaching we absorb ever since we were young. This makes me a firm believer that none of us – not even the State – has the right to decide who is to live or to die. We are not God. And we should not play at being God.
In this context, I am very honoured to have with us today the Honourable Phra Theppariyattimuni, the Abbot of Wat Hong Rattanaram, who will discuss how Buddhist teachings deal with this issue.
I am also looking forward to hearing from our friends from the International Commission of Jurists and Amnesty International, Khun Sanhawan and Khun Piyanut. we will hear as well from the only person who had insight into the moral dilemma of the man known as Thailand’s last executioner, Mr Don Linder, who wrote the script for the movie.
Now, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, the EU is proud to be the world’s largest space that is free from death penalty. We encourage all countries to abolish capital punishment, or at least put a moratorium on it if total abolition remains difficult to achieve.
We are doing this not out of a sense of superiority, but out of humanity and with humility. Global trends show that the majority of the world we are in understand this issue and are with us on this.
At the end of 2019, two-third of countries in the world had already abolished the death penalty – either in law or in practice. And countries that carried out executions in 2019 – 20 in total – represented a tiny fraction of the 193 members of the United Nations.
But that was still 20 countries too many.
Those that move to abolish the death penalty in coming years will join a global movement that values human dignity and that upholds justice over retribution.
For me, this is the world I want to live in. And I thank people who are here for sharing that goal.
I hope you all will enjoy the film, Hakamada, and the panel discussion.