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June 24 2009

TOGO HAS ABOLISHED THE DEATH PENALTY, SETTING AN EXAMPLE FOR THE WHOLE OF AFRICA IN THE STRUGGLE AGAINST VIOLENCE

 
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The parliament of Togo unanimously abolished capital punishment and commuted existing death sentences to life imprisonment. “It is a historic step in that area of the African continent and indicates a method of fighting violence, improving security, preventing divisiveness and promoting a true and profound process of national reconciliation without resorting to the death penalty and respecting human life, even the life of an adversary or someone believed to be guilty of a crime. It is the basis for ending violence and quick vendettas on the level of civil society as well. The fact that the Togolese parliament decided unanimously should be considered an example to Africa and the rest of the world”, said Mario Marazziti, coordinator of the Community of Sant’Egidio’s worldwide campaign against the death penalty. It is the result of a long effort on the part of Togolese civil and political authorities as a necessary step in the process of national reconciliation. The Community of Sant’Egidio supported and closely followed the legislative process through dialogue with public opinion and congratulates the leaders of Togo for the exemplary courage this step could represent for the entire African continent. 

The develpment had been expected since May 25th, when the Togolese Attorney General Kobou Biossey Tozoun solemnly announced during the fourth International Congress of Justice Ministers organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio in Rome that the death penalty would be abrogated in his country sometime during the next few weeks. The “Togolese case” thus became an important element of analysis and discussion about alternative methods of justice and security during the talks in Rome.

Today that pledge has been fully honored in this land of Western Africa, where no execution has taken place in 30 years and where respect for life and human dignity is being asserted, even in the face of serious crime, together with a rejection of justice seen as violence and vendetta. The Community of Sant’Egidio expresses the hope that the example of Togo, like that of Gabon on the eve of the vote in favour of a universal moratorium in the United Nations General Assembly, may encourage other African and other countries to take the same path towards abolition shortly.

The Community of Sant’Egidio has for some time developed close relations of friendship with Togo, having actively supported the recent process of national reconciliation. The renewed dialogue of the government with opposition forces, civil society and donor countries has cleared the way towards democracy and respect for fundamental human rights.

The restored climate of détente created the premises for the development of the abolitionist process, which had already received fresh impetus in December 2008, when the government announced for the first time a draft bill eliminating the death penalty from the penal code, deeming capital punishment to be “humiliating, degrading and cruel” as well as “irreparable and incompatible” with the decision of the country to opt for “a justice system which limits judicial mistakes, corrects, educates and guarantees the rights of people”:

The Community of Sant’Egidio recalls the relevance of the four congresses of justice ministers held during the past five years. These meetings constitute a concrete and operational basis for developing a strategy for abolishing the death penalty in Africa and in the rest of the world. Its elimination in Togo represents the most recent outcome, while in other African countries similar steps in the same direction are expected shortly. 

Sant’Egidio rejoices for this extraordinary success in Togo and recalls the work done day after day by its African communities against capital punishment and for alleviating the wretched conditions in which so many men and women are subjected to in the prisons of the continent.

The Community pledges all necessary support for the fulfilment of the abolitionist movement in Africa and all over the world.


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