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International Day Against Death Penalty Blazes Forth Message
Published on Saturday, November 30, 2002 by Agence France Presse
International Day Against Death Penalty Blazes Forth Message

The first-ever World Day Against the Death Penalty blazed forth its message with Rome's Colosseum and other monuments around the globe bathed in light displays condemning what organizers call a practice from the past like torture and slavery.

Some 60 "Cities for Life" illuminated leading public monuments in the most concerted campaign yet against capital punishment.

The Colosseum lights up if an execution is overturned
Cities as far apart as Stockholm and Santiago marked the new annual event to draw attention to 3,048 people known to have been executed in 31 countries last year.

China is by far the most prolific practitioner, with a reported 2,468 people put to death and 4,015 handed death sentences in 2001, according to Amnesty International.

Since the United States re-introduced capital punishment in 1976, 810 people have been executed there.

Death penalty opponents can point to continued progress in their campaign, with a total of 111 countries abolishing it in law or in practice.

Saturday's international demonstration was organized by human rights groups and Italy's Roman Catholic Sant'Egidio lay community.

Inspired by Rome, which lights up the Colosseum each time a country abolishes capital punishment, organizers asked major world cities to dress a major monument in light on November 30.

The Colosseum -- the amphitheater of ancient Rome that stands in the heart of the Italian capital -- is lit "each time a human life is saved or a country abolishes the death penalty," said Stefania Tallei of the organizing committee.

"A great upturned thumb, the symbol of life, is projected on to the Colosseum facade," she explained.

The thumbs-down was the sign which Roman emperors gave at Colosseum spectaculars to indicate a beaten gladiator should be given the death-blow. The thumbs-up meant his life was spared.

November 30 was chosen because it was on this day in 1786 that the Duchy of Tuscany became the first state to abolish capital punishment.

The Tuscan regional government conferred its highest honor, the Silver Banner, Saturday on Oklahoma Senator Angela Monson for her abolition campaign, and on Afghanistan's former deputy prime minister Sima Samar, now chairman of his country's human rights commission.

Venice illuminated its historic Grand Ducal Palace. In Geneva, St Peter's Cathedral overlooking the city was to remain floodlit for three days.

Amsterdam illuminated its statue of Mahatma Gandhi, Indian patriot and pacifist campaigner against British rule.

Brussels turned the spotlight on its celebrated Atomium, a landmark dating from the 1958 World Fair comprising giant spheres reaching up to a combined height of 102 meters (330 feet).

In France, mayors representing both left-wing and right-wing parties supported a French initiative under the title: "Together against the death penalty," and some 20 cities including Paris, Grenoble, Lyon, Rennes and Lille took part.

American anti-death penalty groups did not participate directly but nevertheless backed a movement they see as principally directed by Europeans, said David Elliot of the US National Coalition against the Death Penalty.

The new event was meant to remind the world that "the death penalty is an instrument of the past, like torture and slavery", said Sant'Egidio spokesman Mario Marazziti.

The Community of Sant'Egidio is an association of lay people who believe in solidarity with the poor and dialogue to resolve conflict.

There are signs that the fight for abolition is being won.

Of 195 countries monitored by Amnesty International and the US-based Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), 111 countries have abolished executions, the latest being Chile and Turkey.

In Europe, where the vast majority have abolished the death penalty, it is still nevertheless on the statute book for peacetime crimes in Albania and Russia.

Latin America is also a largely death penalty-free zone, with only Cuba and Guatemala still carrying out executions.

In Africa there is a growing tendency towards abolition, with Angola, Ivory Coast, Mauritius, Mozambique and South Africa among those to abandon the law in recent years. But in Asia and the Middle East it remains very much in force.

Copyright 2002 AFP


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