France and death penalty
The Abolition of the Death Penalty under French Law
Driven by then Justice Minister Robert Badinter’s commitment and his speech to the National Assembly the law dated October 9th, 1981 abolished the death penalty in France. This law reinforced France’s longstanding efforts to promote human dignity. French law prohibits the removal of any person to a country where they risk the death penalty.
France has signed all international commitments on abolishing the death penalty. Since 2007, abolishing the death penalty has been enshrined in the French Constitution.
International Commitments within the United Nations Framework
The Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights adopted by the UN General Assembly in New York on December 15th, 1989 provides for abolishing the death penalty.
In its October 13th, 2005 decision, the French Constitutional Council indicated that in the absence of a denouncement clause regarding the Second Optional Protocol, it “violated the essential conditions for exercising national sovereignty.” Consequently, its ratification could not be ratified by Parliament until the Constitution was revised.
At the President of the Republic’s request, the abolition of the death penalty was introduced into the Fifth Republic’s Constitution by the Constitutional Law dated February 23rd, 2007. The Constitution now provides in Article 66-1 that “no one shall be sentenced to the death penalty.”
On August 1st, 2007, the Parliament approved the ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. France acceded to this Protocol on October 2nd, 2007. While it allows Party States to apply the death penalty in time of war if they have made a reservation to that effect, France did not, however, pose such a reservation upon this protocol’s ratification.
Within the Council of Europe Framework
The European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, ratified by France on May 3rd, 1974, protects the right to life of every person (Article 2). However, it allows, as an exception, the execution of a capital sentence delivered by a court, if the offense is punishable with the death penalty by law.
On March 1st, 1986, France ratified the Additional Protocol No. 6 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms which provides for abolishing the death penalty in peacetime. It allows the Party States to maintain the death penalty for crimes committed “in time of war or imminent threat of war.”
Finally, on August 1st, 2007, Parliament approved the ratification of the Additional Protocol No. 13 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (2002). This text has been in force with regards to France since February 1st, 2008. It provides for abolishing the death penalty in all circumstances, including in times of war or imminent threat of war. It aims to “take the final step of abolishing the death penalty in all circumstances.”
The international Action of France
France’s commitment in favor of the universal abolition of the death penalty has been determined and constant. This combat constitutes one of its priorities with regards to Human Rights at the international level. It also represents a priority in the European Union’s joint action.
The European Union and France consider the death penalty as cruel and inhuman and its abolition contributes to protecting the right to life. No legal system is immune from judicial error, which may lead to the irreparable loss of human life. Finally, the death penalty makes no useful contribution to combatting crime. It has no preventive value; instead, it constitutes a symbol of the justice system’s failure.
Within the European Union Framework
All candidates for entry into the European Union have signed Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights concerning abolishing the death penalty, which is now a prerequisite for accession to the European Union. Moreover, all EU member countries have signed Protocol No. 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights concerning abolishing the death penalty in all circumstances, adopted in May 2002. The Charter of Fundamental Rights, Article 2, prohibits the death penalty and expulsion or extradition of persons to a country where they risk the death penalty.
In 1998, the EU adopted Guidelines regarding the death penalty aimed at coordinating the EU’s action on this issue and making it one of the of the EU’s human rights priorities. The EU regularly conducts global advocacy campaigns to convince States of the need to abolish the death penalty, which goes against human dignity.
In accordance with these guidelines, France and its European partners regularly encourage states to ratify international instruments such as the United Nations’ Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. More generally, France has undertaken, alone or as part of the European Union, to encourage these states to abolish or, failing that, to observe a moratorium on executions as a first step towards abolishing the death penalty. Steps are also being taken for individuals sentenced to death.
Finally, France and the EU support Human Rights defenders campaigning for abolishing the death penalty.
In Multilateral Fora
In close cooperation with its European partners, France works for the universal abolition of the death penalty, in all relevant international fora, including the UN.
France has also argued forcefully that the death penalty should be outlawed from penalties provided by international criminal courts.
The European Union and France have actively contributed to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopting resolutions calling for establishing a universal moratorium on applying the death penalty in 2007, 2008, and 2010. In 2010, 109 states voted in favor of this resolution, which will be presented again at the 67th UNGA in autumn 2012.
Updated on 21.09.12
In this section
- Campaign for the abolition of the death penalty
- 5th World Congress against the Death Penalty (Madrid, 12-15.06.13)
- Campaign for the universal abolition of the death penalty (12.04.13)
- Campaign for the abolition of the death penalty - Interview with Robert Badinter (24.10.12)
- Regional Conference on the Death Penalty – Mission to Rabat by the human rights ambassador (18-20.10.12)
- Joint call for the abolition of the death penalty (10.10.12)
- Campaign for the abolition of the death penalty – “The death penalty: from moratorium to abolition” meeting (27.09.12)
- Abolition of the death penalty – Ratification of the Optional Protocol by Gabon and El Salvador (10.04.14)
- Death penalty – Moratorium on executions in the state of Washington (United States) (13.02.14)
- World Day against the Death Penalty (10.10.13)
- Publication of a report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights calling for a moratorium on capital punishment (07.08.12)
- Event: Question and answer session on Twitter with the Quai d’Orsay’s spokesperson (09.10.12)
- Useful links
- United Nations