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European-American Topics - Editorial - Death penalty: European perspective

... and this to human dignity

By Martina Law

Many in Europe still vividly remember the highly publicized Marc Dutroux trial in the city of Arlon, Belgium, back in 2004. In the end, pedophile Dutroux, convicted of abducting, abusing and killing young girls, was sentenced to life in prison.   Around the same time, another serial killer emerged in the French nation. His name was Michel Fourniret and he confessed to having killed nine people, mainly young girls and women.                                                                                         

No doubt, these two cases shook up countless Europeans, and sparked new discussions about the death penalty. Interestingly enough, during these times European public opinion polls showed a significant support for the death penalty. And to be honest, if some deranged person ever hurt my children, I would probably want to see this person burn in hell! 

But the debate about death penalty is not to be based on emotional impulse or judgment that dates back to an era that suggests a principle of,  “An eye for an eye, tooth for tooth.”  Hasn’t mankind since risen from the dark ages to become highly advanced civilizations? Supposedly so, but the question on whether to use the death penalty as a means of state punishment remains.    

For European governments the death penalty reveals itself as a denial of human dignity, which, in turn, is a fundamental basis of democracy and the common heritage of the European Union. In 2002, the European Council signed an amendment to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights, abolishing the death penalty once and for all, regardless of any circumstances. 36 European nations pledged to remove the death penalty from all their statutes, including  the sentence for crimes “committed in times of war or imminent threat of war.” This had been the only remaining exception permitted for the death penalty in Article Two of the Convention, which was signed back in 1950. 

Since the US reinstated the death penalty in 1976, the European Union has watched the growing number of executions in the ‘land of the free’ and ‘home of the brave’ with increasing concern. In fact, most executions were carried out during the 1990s.  

EU member states wonder how a nation such as the US, which was founded upon the principles of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights, can even remotely justify capital punishment. 

Long ago, the EU argues, European countries made a choice for humanity by abolishing capital punishment, and thus fostering respect for human dignity. All that’s left now is the EU’s hope that the US will equally embrace this idea.


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