The Sant'Egidio Community against the death penalty
A long path towards abolition
Since the second half of the nineties, the wickedness of death rows and the fight against capital punishment have become one of the global working areas for the Sant’Egidio Community. The death penalty, the extreme epitome of human rights violations, represents a means of torture, contradicts a rehabilatory view of justice, lowers civil society to the level of those who murder, legitimates violence at the highest level and often becomes a tool for the repression of political, ethnic or religious minorities. Today, after years of civil actions and diplomatic efforts on various levels, there are 139 de facto or de jure abolitionist countries whereas 58 countries still maintain capital punishment. Although the number of executions has slowly decreased in recent years, there are still more than 17,800 people living with the penalty of death hanging over their heads.
The Sant’Egidio Community entered death row via epistolary correspondence beginning with Dominique Green, a young African-American imprisoned in Texas, and finally reaching more than 1500 prisoners through a friendship network.
“Thanks for sending me books. But, what I’m truly thankful for is that you entered this hole of darkness without knowing what you would find, offering me your understanding. This gives me hope because it means that human sentiments are still alive in this hard, hard world which in spite of everything, we call home". (Letters from a death row inmate, Ohio, USA, 2008).
The correspondence was followed by visits, legal defence, calls for the condemned and initiatives to humanize the prison situation.
In 1998, the Sant’Egidio Community launched a Call for a Universal Moratorium on the death penalty which gathered more than five million signatures in 153 countries and created a worldwide moral, inter-religious and secular front against the death penalty. The call was delivered to the United Nations on the night before the historic voting for resolution 62/149 of the Assembly General rejecting the death penalty as a means of justice (2007).
The Sant’Egidio Community launched the first International “Cities for Life, Cities against the Death Penalty” Day on 30 November 2002. That date was chosen because it coincides with the anniversary of the first death penalty abolition in history: which occurred in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany on 30 November 1786.
On 30 November 2011, 67 capitals and 1450 other cities in 87 countries around the world gave life to the eighth World Day “Cities for Life” through movements, walks, public events, performances, assemblies at schools and universities and official town hall positions.
In 2002 on the initiative of the Community of Sant’Egidio and other international organizations the World Coalition against the Death Penalty was founded in Rome.
Moreover, each year since 2007, the Sant'Egidio Community has been promoting a Mondial Conference of Ministers of Justice which is an international discourse laboratory and workshop on abolitionist code in which countries that have retained as well as those that have abolished the death penalty participate on joint work.
“Everything that enters this wickedness is deformed and this has a perverse effect on relations with everything and with everyone. It’s difficult to maintain human sentiments when I have to fight against my rage at the tremendous humiliations I have been subjected to. Condemning a man to death is one thing. But locking him up between isolated and segregated walls, stripping him of any real human relationship isolating him from everything that embellishes his inner world; everything that makes him human is another. Everything that enters this wickedness is deformed. Good or bad energy, life, life is like water, by nature it tends to flow, and when it can’t do so it becomes staunch. My inner world is filled with many memories and many desires that are not allowed to flow. I have no other way to make them reality than to write, draw and talk during visits. So, I have no other option than to sit back and watch how they become corrupt”. (Letters from a death row inmate, Livingston, Texas, USA, 2005).