Opening Ceremony of 4th World Congress:
Address at the Palais des Nations

Posted by Elizabeth Zitrin, International Coordinator on March 1st, 2010

Elizabeth Zitrin, DPF's International Coordinator, addressed the 4th World Congress Against the Death Penalty at the UN Palais des Nations in Geneva, on February 24, 2010, as the representative of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty.

(The video of this address is available at

On the Pacific Coast of California, 10,000 kilometers from here, 10 days ago, another thousand people were gathered together to work against the death penalty.

A thousand American lawyers, all representing people - more thousands of people -- facing death at the hands of the government.

A hundred miles from that conference room, up the spectacular Coast Highway, with steep cliffs on the east and wild sea on the west, that same day, the most dangerous ocean waves on the planet reached their peak - 50 foot tall walls of salt water crashing into treacherous rocks and reefs - and the call went out as it does once a year, to the best surfers in the world to travel with just 24 hours' notice to test their talents in what are called "death-defying acts." These athletes were skillful, they were beautiful, they were courageous. But sitting in that conference room I knew that the real death-defying acts were in that room, in the skills and strategy and techniques and tactics.

The death-defying acts are in the courtroom, as lawyers in every retentionist country fight to end the death penalty one precious life at a time.

Acting to defy death. To deny death. Defense lawyers stand individually, one at a time, between their clients and the executioner. But one at a time is just not enough. It's too slow. And too often, we don't win. Abolitionist activists, the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, all of you, defy death and save lives not just one person at a time, but one prison at a time, one state at a time, one nation, ten nations, and we will keep on working, defying death, until we have all followed our heroes and become one world without state torture and execution.

I represent my organization, Death Penalty Focus, on the Steering Committee of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty. The Coalition is a whole that is much greater than the sum of its parts. It's a powerful magnifier. With over a hundred members, it takes the power of one and multiplies it a hundred times. Each voice is a hundred times louder. Each one of us has the strength to carry a hundred times the weight. One hundred shining a light on every injustice.

Last June in Sacramento, the capital of California, there was a public hearing about a new proposed lethal injection execution protocol. Over a hundred people testified. Thousands wrote letters. I asked my World Coalition colleagues for support, and letters came from every part of the world, and were read aloud in a public hearing. And as each one was read, as the letter from our member in Togo, which had abolished the death penalty just a few days before, was read in French in the capital of California, I cried, and I knew that our friends were with us, and I knew that the world was watching.

The World Coalition was born out of the 1st World Congress Against the Death Penalty. ECPM lit the fire of both the Congress and the Coalition, and the flame has been tended by many. From the beginning, we have learned from each other. To work together across boundaries, as Amnesty, PRI, FIDH and ACAT do. To develop from a commitment to the poor, a campaign that collected 5 million signatures presented to the Secretary General of the United Nations, as the Community of Sant'Egidio has done. To support the families, as MVFHR does every day.

Still, as smart and skilled and determined as we are, we lawyers and activists, our advocacy is directed to the public and to decision-makers, our partners in government, who have the responsibility of making the laws and enforcing them.

On behalf of the World Coalition I thank all of the official representatives who join us in Congress this week. We thank you for your courage and for your support. You are the leaders in the community of nations, and, as a citizen of a retentionist country, I thank you for showing the way.

The Coalition has been growing every year -- in size and capacity and influence. Our most recent report, "Towards a Universal Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty: Strategies, Arguments and Perspectives" is being published this week and is available during the Congress.

This year, we will leave Europe for our annual membership meeting. The General Assembly of the World Coalition will be in a retentionist country, and it will be the first time an international death penalty abolition organization will meet on US soil. This year, when our World Day focus is on the United States, the World Coalition will meet at the home of Death Penalty Focus, and the birthplace of the United Nations, in San Francisco in June, and I'll be looking for you there.

But for this week, the World Coalition joins ECPM and our Congress partners in welcoming you to Geneva to defy death, to defeat death, for this 4th World Congress Against the Death Penalty.

Thank you very much.

Posted in Blog, International


Comments are now closed for this item.

  1. Comment by chanel, May 13th, 2010 7:28pm

    “Is this bill all that I would want?” Ms. Snowe said. “Far from it. Is| it all that it can be? No. But when history calls, history calls. And I happen to think that the consequences of inaction dictate the urgency of Congress to take every opportunity to demonstrate its capacity to solve the monumental issues of our time.” -

  2. Comment by Gilles DENIZOT, Mar 3rd, 2010 5:14am

    It was a wonderful moment, powerful and inspiring!


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