Mario Marazziti at #DefeatingHatred: " No country is immune from this growing fascination of hatred and violence". No more death penalty to avoid errors and horror

November 29 2019 - ROME, ITALY

Death Penalty

Share On

Address by Mario Marazziti, Community of Sant'Egidio at the 12° International Meeting of Justice Ministers "Paving the Way: Defeating Hatred. A World Without the Death Penalty".

"The death penalty is useless, injust, incompatible with human rights and has no place in the 21st century"
Ban-ki-moon, Oct.10th 2014

"The death penalty is inadmissible"
Pope Francis, Catechism of the Catholic Church

Honourable President, Ministers Authorities, Representatives coming from many countries in the world, gathered here at the invitation of the Community of Sant’Egidio. We are here to find and promote the ways to give the world and our peoples more justice and security in a more human way, never destroying life, not even the life of the guilty ones.

Dear friends.

We have a special responsibility, and we cannot escape from it. We are the first generation in history to witness a turning point after millennia, and to have the chance to be part of it and to fasten it: a world without the death penalty is replacing the old one. A world without executions, without human sacrifices, is approaching: and we have to decide on which side of history we want to be and to stand.

Our world, actually, has been at ease with the use of the death penalty since the very beginning of history itself. But, as I said, we are now at a turning point in the history of the world. In 1975, 16 states only had abolished it. Last year, the proportion was reversed: 23 states sentenced citizens to death and 53 only, out of 200, passed capital sentences, while 30 of them did not applied them. Just a year ago there were 121 ‘yes’ at the UNGA’s Resolution for a Universal Moratorium, an improvement on the 117 in favour of the final vote just two years earlier.

Looking at the last year 106 countries had abolished the death penalty in law for all crimes and 142 countries had abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Burkina Faso abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes last June and I want to pay homage to the courage of its leadership. In February and July respectively, Gambia and Malaysia both declared an official moratorium on executions. In the US, the death penalty statute in the state of Washington was declared unconstitutional in October. Governor Newsom commuted all the 750 death sentences and closed the death chamber in California, while New Hampshire abolished by a bipartisan large vote the death penalty in one of the founder states of America. And let me pay homage to one of the heroes of this two decades work for abolition, my friend Representative Renny Cushing. Tomorrow we will light up the Colosseum to celebrate this historical event.

The path to abolition has an impressive, very recent, record

If we look at Africa, in 1981 Cabo Verde was the first country to abolish capital punishment. Starting from the Nineties, 20 African states have abolished it and other countries can be counted in the group of the de facto abolitionists. Just to have an idea of this acceleration, Togo and Burundi abolished it in 2009, Gabon in 2010, as a development of the process started with the Dialogue Africa for Life promoted by Sant’Egidio. Then Madagascar, in 2014, Congo Republic in 2015, Benin in 2016, Guinea Conakry in 2017, and now, as I said,  Burkina Faso.
It is not a matter of if the death penalty will ever disappear, like slavery and torture, at least in the books of the states’ laws. It is only a matter of when it will definitively disappear. And, again, we have to decide if we want to be in the group of those who want to participate at this turn in history or if we want, sadly, try to resist.

But it is not a linear process, and this is why we are here. Because violence, hatred, fascination for the use of weapons and war as a way to solve conflicts are increasing worldwide and also in countries and continents that have abolished capital punishment.

We are here today just after the world has interrogated itself of the growth of violence against women. If we look at Italy, the study on women’s security shows that at least 2 million women have suffered in life physical or sexual violence, and if separated or divorced, the risk of violence from their partner doubles. Over the last 5 years half a million women in Italy have suffered violence by a former partner. Even if in Italy we have a low rate of homicides, compared to many countries in the world and to other European countries, one murder out of two, the half, is committed inside family (49,2%).  But there are some data that are even more worrisome to me: The killing of sons and daughters, i figlicidi, increased by 55% over the last year. Among the victims, foreigners, migrants, are 1 out of 5, even if migrants in Italy are 10 per cent. It has grown esponentially the number of victims of weapons in homes. While the ownership has increased by 97% in Italy only over one year, doubling, in 2018 4 victims out of 10 inside the family has been killed by firearms. Yet, even in a country that has a homicide rate fallen to 0,59 out of 100,000 inhabitants, while in Latvia, we have a tenfold rate, 8 times in Lithuania and in the United States (5,0 x 100.000 inhabitants), 0,91 in Germany, more than the double than Italy in France and the UK (respectively 1,31 and 1,15). And we are far from the terrible figures, in any case, of Mexico, where take place almost 3,000 homicides every month. But we are not immune, no country is immune from this growing fascination of hatred and violence. 
Let me say that in this international frame, it sounds disproportionate  and unjustified, up to sound as a distraction from reality, the stress on fear and self defense in Italy, channeled into fear of minorities and migrants, when most of the extreme violence happens inside homes and families, is perpetrated by individuals well known in advance by the victims, and among the victims migrants are over represented, so as to say that their life in Italy is twice at risk of being target of violence that Italian residents.

Why, then, are we today to discuss if it is worth it to stop state killings and the death penalty, in a time of growth of hatred speech, of growth of micro and macro violent attacks against minorities, of resurgent antisemitism? I think that today we have a new reason to stop the death penalty: because in a time of growing production and commerce of arms, weakening of multilateralism, unilateral infringements of international laws and treaties, sometimes by countries that have had a crucial role in the stabilization of the world, in a time of growth of nuclear escalation  that seemed over forever, of regional clashes and wars and of silent legitimization of aggressiveness also in private lives and in social life the only way to prevent destructive abuses on human lives is to get rid at its roots any culture of death.
My mind turns to the 35,000 deaths by suicide or homicide caused by firearms that occur on average every year in the United States, where there are 270 million personal weapons, more than one for every inhabitant.
Does the death penalty help societies to be safer or does it really tackles the most heinous crimes? I have no evidence of this, not one case in the world that can be used irrefutably to demonstrate that the death penalty is a deterrent.
It is an illusion to believe and to make people believe that those who are nourished by a culture of death, such as terrorists, can be stopped by the fear of the death penalty. Capital punishment is a deterrent only on non violent people.

It is an illusion also to believe and to sell as truth that 250 million people around the world who take drugs, 5.2 per cent of the world’s population, will refrain and shrink thanks to a repression implemented through capital punishment. And it is a lie.

There are many lies around the death penalty, starting from the language: it is called execution what is killing. In ancient Italian capital death was called “giustizia”, justice. If we give it real names then it becomes to embarrassing for a society.

It is a lie the argument that the only way to reimburse a family who had a loss, and to offer them “closure”,  is by killing the author of the killing. It is instead a way to freeze the families for years in the worst moments of their life, waiting for revenge, given the promise that closure would coincide with the moment of the new killing as reimbursement. No psychologist would ever say that closure is a punctual moment, since it is a process. But on the death penalty there are many legends accepted as truth.

When you have one  out of 100 homicides punished with the death penalty if that is the only way to make justice, what about the other 99 families? And if we look at Japan, there is one person on death row out of one million of Japanese. If 120 people die or stay alive in a prison or with a chance to give back something to society, nothing for the security of Japanese citizens changes. But all can change if they stay alive and the State stays forever  away from the risk of wrongful convictions, that break the confidence between the state and its own citizens.
Some insist even there that death is useful all the same to create harmony and balance and gives back something to the victims. In Japan  the state killing by hanging is inflicted on 1 out of 600 murderers. If executions are the only way to reimburse the families victims and society, what about the other 599 cases?
This is why last week, in Japan, Sant’Egidio promoted an International Conference inside the Japanese Diet, with the All Party Parliamentarian Group to discuss the future of the Death Penalty in Japan, and with the Japanese Federation of lawyers, and I have launched with this support
The request of an Olympic Truce, an Olympic 2020 Moratorium on Executions, in the year of the Olympics games as a first step to revise the Penal Code and towards abolition. I launch again from here, solemnly, the call for an Olympic Moratorium in Japan. In a country in which you can be interrogated for 23 days in a row before being charged and where the majority of cases ends with a confession, any citizen of the world that will go to Japan next year may be at risk if by chance founds himself in the middle of unpredictable violence.
The case of Iwao Hakamada, who attended our conference in Tokyo and the Mass with Pope Francis, with his sister Hideko, is a stone that cannot be removed. 48 years on death row, after a confession signed after 10 days of interrogation 12 hours a day and no sleep. And 48 years asking the revision of the trial and claiming innocence because there was no evidence of even his presence on the crime scene, till being put out of death row in 2014.
60 per cent of the DNA cases reversed by the Innocence Project in the US were based on confessions and eye witnesses, all cases where each of us would say that there was no doubt about the real perpetrator.
In the US since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated, 1499 have been executed. Over the same period of time 166 have been exonerated. At least 1 out of 20 death sentences in the US has proven to be wrong and there are serious reason to think that 1 out of 10 death row inmates is innocent of the crime for which is put to death.
The only way to avoid this errors and horror is no more death penalty, since mistakes are always irreversible.  And the state becomes a killer, lowering each of us to the level of the killer. No justice system is perfect nor can be, since we, human beings are not perfect. This is why the only way to defend our justice systems is to liberate them from the death penalty and from the chance to inflict irreversible penalties.
The death penalty is a simplified military solution of an entire society against an individual and gives no answer to the real problems of security and to the social problems  that go along with crimes, in any society.

My mind turns to the 35,000 deaths by suicide or homicide caused by firearms that occur on average every year in the United States, where there are 270 million personal weapons, more than one for every inhabitant
Does the death penalty help societies to be safer or does it really tackles the most heinous crimes? I have no evidence of this, not one case in the world that can be used irrefutably to demonstrate that the death penalty is a deterrent.
I want to conclude.

EU is a no-death penalty continent. How could it happen that Europe could give up, country by country, to state killing? Because it was disgusted by death. Many Japanese friends told me: maybe the abolition of death penalty in Europe can be related to a society that is more tolerant towards errors, a society that is softer. I just want to remind that in Europe we had centuries of war. The thirty years war, the hundred years war, two world wars, even religious wars between Christians, where the adversaries were killed, sentenced to death, burned alive. I want to remind that the beginning of democracy in France, the French Revolution, the Regime of Terror made the guillotine an altar. Europe wasn't, isn’t softer on crime. But it learned from its mistakes. And the only answer to death is "enough with death".

There is constant decrease in the US started 20 years ago. 7 states that abolished the death penalty over the last years in the US. Executions dropped from 98 to  20 executions carried out in 11 months in the US this year and 3 still pending. 25 were carried out a year ago. They are now one fourth of 20 years ago. In a country in which 29 states where the death penalty is legal, only one out of four has carried out executions: 7 states.

Death is never a good currency. It makes life bitter. Intentional killing of someone is always wrong, especially by the state. The guilty one's death only adds another death to those that have already occurred. It creates new victims: the sentenced to death person's innocent relatives, fare orever ashamed and deprived of their loved one's affection. And what is worse is that this injustice that creates new victims is made by the state, against innocents. The sons become orphans, yes, due to the hand of the State.

They say, some ruling classes say: but the people demand it. The five-year survey in Japan says that, even if the questions are badly written. But were they even written better, democracy is not, is never about surveys. That is a caricatural democracy, a democracy "en travesti", moody, instinctive, childish. If there was a survey in Italy or in Europe about abolishing taxes or guaranteeing an additional salary for everyone, probably it is not impossible that the 70, 80% would be favourable. But our societies, Italy would die. Public opinion can wave, especially in our times.
The best answer is to interrupt the cycle of violence.  It weakens a culture of death. It can help the new generation to breathe a culture of life and less violence.
The entire issue is in one question, the question of a 10 years old: "They will kill him because he killed a man. Then, after they killed him, who shall we have to kill?
The answer of an enlightened leadership, that has the courage to lead its people, and not to follow polls, can lies in this: we will never be like the killers: “never like them”. Never death, Always life. It is in your hands, in our hands. You, we, together can make history.