Germany hosted the 8th World Congress against the Death Penalty, which took place in Berlin

The 8th World Congress against the Death Penalty ended in Berlin on Friday afternoon. More than 1000 participants from 90 countries had been expected to reflect on the worldwide situation of the death penalty and possibilities of abolition in numerous debates with more than 100 speakers over four days.

Political representatives, government officials, diplomats and delegates from a wide range of nations were present, as well as academics, lawyers, anti-death penalty activists from numerous human rights organizations, former death row inmates, relatives of perpetrators and victims, etc. Those who could not be in Berlin in person had the opportunity to follow many of the events via livestream on a congress app.

There was also a cultural program, including two exhibitions at Berlin universities. As in previous years, the congress was organized by the French group Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort (ECPM), in collaboration with the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (WCADP). The latter is an umbrella organization that links more than 160 anti-death penalty groups worldwide and was launched after the first World Congress 20 years ago.

On the political level

The opening as well as the closing ceremonies, in particular, were marked by the participation of high-ranking representatives of the international political arenas who spoke out in favor of the abolition of the death penalty. Although this ultimate form of punishment is completely abolished in Europe, with the exception of Belarus, representatives of, among others, the host country Germany, Belgium, France and Switzerland were present to support the worldwide fight against the death penalty.

Federal Minister of Justice Marco Buschmann and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, representing Germany, took a clear stand against the death penalty in their speeches at the opening ceremony, but left the stage of the World Congress immediately afterwards – staying a while longer and listening to the political representatives from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Tajikistan and Malawi would have made a more convincing impression.

Enlightenment and education

The congress in Berlin deliberately placed a special emphasis on young people as the next generation in the worldwide movement to abolish the death penalty, and thus at the same time on opportunities for outreach and education.

The organization German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty put this goal into practice at the same time as the congress, visiting five Berlin schools with a play that encouraged reflection on the death penalty and reached some 300 students.

At the closing event of the congress, people or organizations who have rendered outstanding services to the abolition of the death penalty were honored with awards.

But also those who have died in the meantime within the Abolition Movement were commemorated, among them Karl Rodenberg, founding member of the Initiative gegen die Todesstrafe e.V. 25 years ago. Many have left their mark and are unforgotten and have contributed their part to the fact that the death penalty has been on the retreat more and more worldwide over the last decades.

Critical remarks

A critical thought with regard to Germany should be noted: While the Federal Republic was largely conspicuous by its absence on the podium of the past world congresses, it is of course gratifying that this time Germany was the host and supported the cause.

Nevertheless, the support was not consistent – for example, a human rights lawyer from Pakistan did not receive an entry visa for the congress from the German embassy in Islamabad, although he had been nominated as a possible laureate and had received an official invitation and submitted all documents in time. Neither the Foreign Office nor the office of Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock considered it necessary to react to corresponding inquiries by the German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

One may ask oneself, how it fits together, if high-ranking German politicians support the world congress on the one hand and use it as a stage and on the other hand a renowned lawyer, who campaigns in Pakistan under danger of his life for clients threatened with the death penalty due to the blasphemy laws, despite nomination and invitation and the fact that he was allowed to visit the previous congress 2019 in Brussels, refuses the entry to Berlin.

Gabi Uhl – German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

Video of German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty about the World Congress in Berlin – click here!