Former Minister of Justice Robert Badinter, who had the death penalty abolished, died on the night of Thursday to Friday at the age of 95. The one who fought against it ardently as a lawyer, then as Keeper of the Seals, was certain: it will one day be a vestige of History all over the world. For Le Pèlerin, in 2021, he reaffirmed his confidence in the irreversibility of this process.
In the 20th century, why didn’t abolition come sooner?
There were wars with, in 1940, the Occupation, then the Liberation and the purge… The period was not propitious. Then came the Algerian War. General de Gaulle was not particularly bloodthirsty or repressive. However, he remained a soldier, trained at Saint-Cyr and at the War School before the First World War. Literary as he was, he must have read Camus, Hugo… However, this was not his first concern. To Georges Pompidou, on the other hand, a normalien, ex-member of the Socialist Youth, the abolitionists had attributed intentions going in their direction. His decisions ultimately disappointed them: he used his right of pardon sparingly.
What about François Mitterrand?
Abolition was not, for him, a primary subject either. However, from the moment he became the successor of Jaurès and Blum, he followed the thread of humanist socialism. He had a moment of great courage during the 1981 campaign, on the television political show Cards on table : he made his intentions clear even though he knew that the French, in the polls, were mainly in favor of capital punishment. Let us also remember that, thanks to Jacques Chirac, abolition has been enshrined in the Constitution since 2007.
What makes his recovery impossible?
If France became a dictatorship tomorrow, we would return to the death penalty. There is in fact an intrinsic link between totalitarianism and capital punishment. But I exclude this hypothesis. In addition, our country is bound by international agreements which prohibit its use.
The death penalty is still practiced in many countries. Do you have confidence in its universal abolition?
The process is irreversible. He goes faster, further than I would have imagined. Today, 108 countries have abolished it, around forty other countries have not carried out executions for at least ten years. The disappearance of communist societies reinforced the march towards abolition. The moratorium on executions, renewed every two years by the vote of the United Nations General Assembly, continues to attract more votes: of the 185 States having participated in the last vote in December 2020, 123 approved this moratorium. Of course, this resolution is not legally binding but it is fundamental to one day reaching the end of the process. There remains a bloc of recalcitrants: regimes whose authorities retain the power of life or death over individuals. Within this bloc, all the fundamentalist Islamic states constitute a significant force. However, sharia is hardly compatible with abolition.
And in the United States?
This country carries with it the death penalty as a legacy of the past when it was one of the expressions of racism. The states that still practice capital punishment are almost all the former slave-holding states of the South. Just look at the prison population on death row: proportionally to the population, we find a majority of blacks. The fact remains that the march towards abolition is in constant progress. The death penalty depends essentially on state legislation and not on federal law. However, the number of abolitionist states within the federation has continued to grow, including in recent months. Virginia, in turn, joined them in February 2021, a first for a Southern state. This movement will continue to expand, I am convinced.
What was the contribution of Christians in this fight?
Many of them campaigned for this cause. There was a long time, it is true, a form of reluctance on the part of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church to add its voice to that of the abolitionists. But in the decades following World War II, the Catholic Church became aware of the incompatibility of Christ’s message with the death penalty. In France, I remember Catholic figures in favor of abolition. I was a friend of Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger. I knew him when he was chaplain of the Sorbonne. He warned me, before the law was passed: “When an atrocious crime is committed, the desire for retaliation will rise in public opinion. And since we can no longer put the criminal to death, this frustrated fury will turn against you. » This turned out to be correct.
Today, forty years after abolition, what message do you want to convey to future generations?
Keep going! Victory against the death penalty in Europe, a continent marked by barbarism in its long history, is well and truly achieved. But there is the rest of the world and so many other fights to fight for human rights and justice! Activists are not likely to be idle…
Where does your unalterable confidence originate?
The true spiritual force that makes abolition irresistible and irreversible is human rights, which constitute the cornerstone of our societies. And the right to life is the first of them. There remains a theological subject of extreme importance: faith or works? Is it possible to earn salvation solely through prayer, in this world marked by misery and injustice? Or do we need to help others first? I would tend to favor the second option, even if it is not up to me, of course, to settle the debate. Theology poses, it seems to me, the only real questions.
March 30, 1928. Birth in Paris.
February 9, 1943. His father, Simon, was arrested in Lyon by the Gestapo during the raid on Rue Sainte-Catherine ordered by Klaus Barbie.
November 28, 1972. Execution of Roger Bontems, whose lawyer he is, as well as Claude Buffet.
January 20, 1977. He avoids the guillotine on Patrick Henry. Until 1981, he defended and avoided the death sentence of five other defendants.
1981–1986. Keeper of the Seals.
October 9, 1981. Law abolishing the death penalty.
1986-1995. President of the Constitutional Council.
2000. The abolition (Ed. Fayard).
2011. Leaves his senatorial seat in Hauts-de-Seine.
2020. Records a video message where he pays tribute to Professor Samuel Paty, “hero of secularism”, assassinated on October 16.
>>> Also read on lepelerin.com: Pope Francis says no to the death penalty