“Abolition is the irreversible trend in Africa,” – Interview with Raphaël Chenuil-Hazan

8 April 2018

Monday 9 April 2018 marks the opening of the first day of debates at the African Congress Against the Death Penalty organised by ECPM, in partnership with the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, FIACAT and the Côte d’Ivoire National Human Rights Commission. This year it will concentrate on Africa which is en route to becoming the next abolitionist continent.

Raphaël Chenuil-Hazan, General Manager of ECPM, gives us his view of this major abolition event, the biggest ever held on African soil.

What are the major issues surrounding this Congress focusing on Africa?

RCH: Firstly, to show all the African political players who are not that far from abolition that it is possible; demonstrating that abolition is the irreversible trend because, we know it and we say it again, more African countries are choosing to abolish the death penalty every year. This trend must lead to a full understanding by all African politicians, particularly in those very many countries which are on the edge of tipping over into abolition. The other major issue is to encourage political powers, both executive and legislative, and civil society to work together. Civil society can give them the information and tools to abolish the death penalty.

Why choose Côte d’Ivoire to host this African Congress?

Côte d’Ivoire is a driving force in favour of abolition internationally – particularly within the framework of the vote on the UN moratorium resolution which will take place in December. We would also like Côte d’Ivoire to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which seeks to abolish the death penalty, at this Regional Congress. The idea is to set an example and encourage other countries to do the same across the African continent.

The Ivorian Justice Minister, Sansan Kambile, will speak at the opening ceremony. Ministers from other African governments have also said that they will be present.

Indeed, the highest State authorities are expected at the Congress, as well as senior representatives from several African countries.

What are your expectations or hopes as to the commitments which may be made at the opening of the Congress?

In particular, we hope that Burkina Faso will confirm the path it decided to take at the last parliamentary seminar in Ouagadougou in January 2017, organised by ECPM and FIACAT. If Burkina Faso were to announce abolition via the Constitution, this would be an important step towards continuing the African abolitionist momentum. The Burkina Faso Justice and Foreign Affairs ministers will be present so we expect much from them.

We expect much from countries such as the Gambia and Niger which have made a lot of progress and are no longer very far from abolition. We hope that Niger can announce its next step towards abolition. Countries like Chad will be represented at the highest level and we hope that their delegations can explain how they might stop connecting the death penalty with the fight against terrorism.

How do you imagine abolition in Africa to be in 10 years time?

I think that in ten years time 90% of African countries will have abolished the death penalty in law and only a tiny minority will still apply capital punishment, a group made up of the continent’s harshest, least democratic and most repressive countries. Democracy and the establishment of democracy go hand in hand with abolition of the death penalty via a better, improved and healthy state of law and the practice of fair justice.

With these well-defined goals, what themes have you decided to focus on at the two days of debates?

We will be particularly concentrating on the themes of the World Day Against the Death Penalty, celebrated every year on 10 October. With the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, we work on the annual themes for these world days. Those organised in 2017 and 2018 are particularly relevant for the African continent: they focus on the death penalty with regard to poverty and the conditions of detention on death row. These two themes are at the heart of the challenges facing African prisons.

We have also decided to look at the issue of the history of the death penalty in Africa. The idea is to look at the link, if there is one, between the various colonisations and application and practice of the death penalty.

Finally, one of the important issues also to be raised will be the use of the death penalty as a political tool, particularly within the framework of military justice systems and anti-terrorism measures. We will thus discuss the phenomenon of the politicisation of the death penalty.

ECPM will then organise its 7th World Congress in Brussels in February 2019. How will this be a continuation of the African Congress?

The next World Congress will be the opportunity to assess the African Congress and discuss the African question internationally, not only from a regional perspective. We hope to be able to use the situation in Africa as an example on the international stage.