France Sri Lanka Cultural Exchanges - Suriyakantha

  The bilingual site devoted to the cultural life in Sri Lanka and in France                                                        
Le site bilingue consacré à la vie culturelle au Sri Lanka et en France

H O M E   /   I N  B R I E F



Sri Lanka / France













Fascination of the body

Paul Cézanne

In the Light of Gauguin


Jean de La Fontaine

Malraux / Segalen


Pigeon houses in Quercy






Mental Health



Miniatures of Kangra, India


"Every condemned one will have a severed head..."

An Execution by an Elephant, An Historical Relation Of the Island Ceylon, Robert Knox, London, 1681.

"Neither sun, nor death can be looked at fixedly"

François de La Rochefoucault (1613-1680).

If I can give evidence that this sentence is useless and unnecessary, it would be a great achievement for the sake of the humanity."

Cesare Beccaria (1738-1795),
Dei delitti e delle pene (On offences and punishments),1764.

"Crime is redeemed by remorse, but not by a blow of the axe or slipknot. Blood has to be washed by tears but not by blood."

Victor Hugo (1802-1885), Aux habitants de Guernesey, 1854.




"...The death penalty is abolished."



20 years ago, the death penalty was abolished in France.

At this occasion, many events were organised in Paris :

  • Friday 5th October : a musical show with the presence of Robert Badinter who delivered a speech and the reading of texts of authors such as Albert Camus, Victor Hugo, Caryl Chessman or Arthur Koestler.
  • Saturday 6th and Sunday 7th October (Esplanade du Trocadéro) : exhibitions and discussions.
  • Saturday 6th October, at the French National Assembly : an international forum organized by " Octobre 2001 " under the theme "How to punish the most serious crimes?"
  • Tuesday 9th October at 6 p.m.: meeting of all nations that have abolished the death penalty will be held in front of the Panhéon (where Victor Hugo was buried) with the presentation of the 76 flags.
  • Wednesday 10th October - French National Assembly : first day of an Exhibition about the death penalty and its abolition in France (Hôtel de Lassay, 128, rue de l'Université 75007 Paris 01 40 63 50 00).

  • The long way towards the ABOLITION

    Beccaria  |  Howard  |  Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau

        Lamartine  |  Hugo  |   Jaures  |  Briand  |   Mitterrand  |  Badinter

    Revenge eliminates, justice reintegrates...

    Many countries have abolished the death penalty, others do not apply it. Nevertheless, in case of some threats for the society (violence, criminality, drugs...), there are voices calling for its reintroduction.
    This discussion goes back to the 18th Century.

    18th Century

    Cesare Beccaria (Italy)

    In 1764, he published : Dei delitti e delle pene .Toscane is the first State to abolish the death penalty (1786).

    John Howard (England)

    In 1775, he published : State of the Prisons.

    19th and 20th Century

    The death penalty progressively disappears from the whole battery of repressive methods. Nevertheless, the way toward the legal abolition remains a long and chaotic way. Sometimes, as a reaction to politic or criminal events, there is a reintroduction of the death penalty.

    These are the dates of legal abolition in different countries: Portugal, 1867; Holland, 1870; Norway, 1905; Sweden, 1921; Denmark, 1930; Switzerland, 1942; Italy, 1944; Finland and Germany, 1949; Austria, 1950; United Kingdom, 1965; Spain, 1978; France, 1981.

    Most of the South America States and a part of United States have also abolished the death penalty. In Europe, Greece and Turkey are not abolitionist.

    This evolution originates from emotional reactions against a blinkered justice This does not make it any the less necessary to think about the three fundamental questions which concern the death penalty issue :

    The question of principle or the right of the State upon life;

    The question of capital punishment or the concept of its deterrent nature;

    The question of alternative punishments and the reintegration of prisoners.


    The right of the State towards life

    Has the society, in the person of the State, the right to suppress life as an ultimate sanction of an unpardonable crime?

    Everybody agrees that the state power possesses a constraint power, which is not allowed to individuals. Is this power excludes death?

    If we say yes, we postulate that there is a future for the convicted prisoner. It means that, on one side the society is ready for undertaking a process of reintegration, on the other side that the prisoner is ready for a process of reeducation, a process of change. Do the errors of the past allow think about the future? Are we disposed to live later with this criminal? It is the great challenge which is proposed to the society by all militants who, yesterday and now, have pursued their fight against the capital punishment.

    The partisans of the death penalty argue that the situation is irremediable, and no reintegration possible.

    The deterrent nature of the death penalty

    There is no way to reply to horror by using horror. (Abbé Clavier, prison chaplain)

    No convincing statistics can give the evidence that abolitionist countries know an increase in their rate of criminality.
    The use of death penalty reveals a state of panic and consequently, an admission of weakness which belittles the society to the levels of its subjects to judgement.

    By making an example, we always renounce to the justice and lapse into the terrorism. The judge echoes the social fear...
    The judicial assistance and the punishment conditions will be quite different depending on whether you are powerful or miserable...

    In vain, with a lot of international investigations, I took great care to establish that, in all abolitionist countries, the murders have not increased. The rate of serious crime is always the same, whatever the presence or the absence of the capital punishment in the criminal legislation. (...)

    The deterrent value is a myth. There is no serious study which is able to corroborate it.

    There is no example of a potential criminal who abandons the idea of committing a crime by fear of the guillotine.

    Whether the criminal believes that he will get away from the police and he will commit the crime, or he will be afraid to be arrested and he will renounce. So, life sentence or guillotine, the kind of punishment doesn't much matter. In case of "cold blood" criminals, the determinant point is the conviction that he will not be arrested, and not, in case of arrest, the nature of the punishment. And concerning the most dreadful crimes, most of the time they remain inexplicable. (Pr Roumajon, psychiatrist)

    The ritual of the execution always included the expiatory sacrifice ; death for death in order to calm the anger of gods that is only the projection of our insurmountable anguish..

    Prisons and social reintegration

    The prisons' world should be the world of rehabilitation which starts, not the world of never-ending penalty : conservation of links between inside prisons and outside, coming out of the prison in a situation with open doors into professional, financial and affective dimensions.

    Modern societies reject the "definitive" solutions, and so acknowledge their responsibility and deficiencies, and intend to promote a repressive and curative approach at the same time.
    It means to have the courage to look at the practical consequences of this choice : refusal of prisons being places of exclusion and concrete definition of rehabilitation and reintegration programs.

    A society which bans the capital punishment as to be fully committed to become a society which allows the resumption of life.
    By giving to the prisoner all his chances of rehabilitation, our society manifests its respect of life, any life.

    I have given my preference, not to the passion of militants, but to the weight of experience. The purpose was to give evidence that the death penalty is useless.

    The purpose was to demonstrate that the death penalty is absurd, irrational, primitive.

    It was essential to convince that the death penalty is inhuman.

    This document on death penalty is based on the excellent article of the Encyclopaedia Universalis by André Dumas Pasteur, President of the magazine "Réforme" and quotations from "L'abolition" by Robert Badinter.

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