By Marie Dhumieres
BEIRUT: On the occasion of the European and World Day Against the Death Penalty, the European Union delegation to Lebanon organized a presentation and debate on the issue Monday, in an event aimed at highlighting human rights defenders and their work to abolish capital punishment.
“Fifty-eight countries still allow the death penalty and Lebanon should no longer be part of the list,” said EU Ambassador to Lebanon Angelina Eichhorst, calling for lawmakers and politicians to “take the abolition of the death penalty close to your hearts and your agendas.”
Eichhorst reminded those attending that the death penalty was “outlawed” in the EU and that no execution had taken place in member states in almost 15 years, describing the EU as the “biggest promoter of abolition.”
She said that deterrence was the main argument used by government officials when justifying the death penalty in Lebanon, but called it a “clear violation of human dignity” and stressed that there was “no evidence that the threat of execution deters people from committing crimes.”
“The possibility always remains, even with the most water-tight legal system, for a miscarriage of justice that ends up in the execution of an innocent person,” she added.
Wadih Asmar, head of the Lebanese Center for Human Rights, agreed with the ambassador and said that this argument was especially relevant for Lebanon, where “the insufficiency and lack of independence of the judiciary makes the death penalty even more unacceptable.”
“The judiciary system … doesn’t provide any guarantee of fair trial,” Asmar said, adding that his organization has documented several cases of persons sentenced to death as a result of unfair trials.
The last execution in the country was in 2004, but Asmar also argued that a de facto moratorium on the death penalty is insufficient as the policy on the capital punishment can change according to political climate, leaving prisoners in a state of “total uncertainty” about their fate.
Since several people convicted of espionage for Israel have been given death sentences, human rights activists fear executions might restart in the near future.
Dareen Hajj, executive director of the human rights association Alef, said her association conducted a survey of some 400 Lebanese, with 53 percent of interviewees responding that the death penalty should be abolished and 70 percent saying they did not trust the judicial system.
Hajj also presented the new EU-funded project “Life is a right,” which will be carried out in Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Palestine and aims at “starting a debate on the death penalty, especially amongst the youth.”
Activists believe at least 55 detainees are currently on death row in the country, including 18 who have been condemned since 2010.
Lawyer and human rights activist Nizar Saghuieh, who spoke about the legal situation in the country, said that Lebanon was giving “contradictory signals” on its position on abolishing capital punishment and called on human rights defenders to “start a debate in the judiciary circles to convince as many judges as possible not to apply death penalty.”
AJEM, an NGO that works with detainees in Roumieh prison, presented a petition to show support for prisoners sentenced to death and to raise awareness on the issue.