Education International
Education International

Teaching abolition

published 1 September 2009 updated 1 September 2009

“Open a school, and you will close a prison.” – Victor Hugo

Which country executes most people through the death penalty? China. More than 70% of executions worldwide happened there in 2008, most of them after unfair trials. Which country has the highest per capita record of executions? Iran. It is also one country known to have executed juvenile offenders last year, despite international outrage. Which country is the only one in the Americas to regularly use the death penalty? The United States. Almost half of all US executions in 2008 took place in Texas, including the execution of Mexican citizens who were denied the right to a lawyer. China, Iran and the USA, together with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, were responsible for more than 90% of death penalty executions worldwide in 2008. They provide the greatest challenge towards the global abolition of the death penalty. 10 October: World Day Against the Death Penalty Each year the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty marks the World Day on 10 October with actions and initiatives across the globe. This year’s focus is on teaching abolition to students. “As teachers, our mission in society is to open minds, to give all children and young people the means to become the enlightened citizens of tomorrow. So what would be more natural for us than teaching tolerance, mutual respect, justice and rights? That’s part of our identity, of our professional ethics,” says Francis Barbe of the French teachers’ union SNUIPP, an EI affiliate. In order to support teachers in this mission, the World Coalition has compiled a manual for teachers of students aged 14 to 18. It contains directions for role plays and discussions, as well as suggestions for movies, songs and literature that can be used in teaching abolition. Irrevocable, inefficient and unfair The message of the manual is clear: No justice system is infallible, but the death sentence is an irrevocable punishment which cannot be reversed, and it denies the possibility of rehabilitation. As Amnesty International points out: “It [the death penalty] is a symptom of a culture of violence, not a solution to it.” Disproportionally high numbers of death sentences are pronounced against the poor, mentally impaired and other marginalised groups. Saudi Arabia provides sad proof of this: Almost half of those executed in 2008 were migrant workers from poor and developing countries. The death penalty is often used as a means of political suppression. Last year, trade union leaders were charged with treason in Pakistan, an offence that carries the death penalty. In Belarus, the only country in Europe which still uses the death penalty, demonstrators after the 2006 elections were threatened with the death sentence. EI continues to campaign on behalf of Farzad Kamangar, an Iranian teacher trade unionist who was tortured and sentenced to death in 2008 after an unfair trial that lasted only a few minutes. Kamangar is still on death row, despite international protests. Lasting progress Uzbekistan and Argentina abolished the death penalty for all crimes in 2008, and Burundi followed early this year. However, there are still 58 countries in the world that use this archaic punishment which took more than 2,300 lives in 2008. But there seems to be a positive trend: Some of those countries are working on reforms towards abolition; some commute practically all death sentences to life imprisonment. This progress is based on the continued efforts of abolitionists all around the world. Now, in order to create a stronger understanding of human rights among the citizens of tomorrow, teachers are asked to take the lead: Teach abolition today! By Angelika Striedinger.

This article was published in Worlds of Education, Issue 31, September 2009.