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Seventieth United Nations General Assembly/ministerial meeting on the death penalty

Published on October 2, 2015
Speech by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development

New York, September 29, 2015

I will speak in French. Thank you very much for your welcome.

I am not going to summarize everything that has been said so well, all the more so as I was unable to take part in all your work. I would just like to make three or four remarks.

First, I note that our event has become an annual event. This shows that our collective mobilization has not diminished, and it further shows – let’s be clear – that the battle is far from won.

I have heard the comments that have been made. It is true that in terms of numbers, in recent years there has been an increase in the number of United Nations countries that no longer apply capital punishment.

Yet, when looking at things in detail, as you all do, we see that backsliding has also occurred which is of great concern, as well as specific situations which, today, are a cause for concern worldwide.

Therefore, the first message I want to convey, and which you sent, is that we must remain highly mobilized. I want to thank all our friends who co-sponsored this event. This is the first message I heard, which I am most willing to echo.

The second message, I would say, concerns substance. There are a number of countries – here again, we must be clear – which put forward cultural or religious considerations to try to justify the death penalty. No, the cause of abolition is not a cultural issue, it is one of principle.

We believe that human rights do not vary depending on whether you’re in the north, south, east or west, for the simple reason that was very well explained by several of you. For we all think – or else we would not be here – that the death penalty does not represent justice, that it is the negation of justice. You have already expanded on all these arguments, so I need not revert to them.

We all take action in our countries. France does, of course. Therefore, it should not lecture others, as I remember full well that when we abolished the death penalty in the 1980s – I myself was a somewhat younger member of the government at the time – public opinion was against this. Then things changed little by little.

Here at the United Nations, as in other forums, we must unite to ensure that this issue receives maximum support. I have given instructions throughout the French diplomatic network for us to mobilize in support of this cause. It’s not always easy, given that it arouses reactions, as you can imagine. Yet it is our duty, as well as a matter of honour for us.

A parliamentary seminar on French-speaking sub-Saharan Africa will take place this October in Brazzaville. We are also working with lawyers, voluntary organizations and the younger generation, who should all be commended. We will participate with many of you in the sixth World Congress against the Death Penalty in Oslo next June.

What I have heard expressed very strongly, here and there, is that we – I mean us – call on all states, whether abolitionist or not, to participate in this event.

Albert Camus is often quoted. To conclude, I would like to do so as well. Camus ends one of his novels with this beautiful sentence: “There will be no lasting peace either in the heart of individuals or in social customs until death is outlawed.”

I believe this is a conviction we all share, which is why, despite difficulties, I remain confident.
Thank you./.

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