“To impose someone the coming of death, the clock ticking and the psychological distress, is absolutely inhuman” : Interview with Aminata Niakate, president of ECPM
6 August 2021
Newly elected president of ECPM, Aminata Niakate looks back on her committed career. She is also a lawyer and an elected environmentalist in the 15th arrondissement of Paris. Her dynamic personality and professionalism are very much in line with the ambitions of the association.
What motivated your involvement in the first place?
I always wanted to get involved in something, yet I was looking for a place where I would do so on a specific topic. When I settled as a lawyer, it was the time to jump in: I committed to Together against the death penalty (ECPM), Union des Jeunes Avocats (Junior Lawyers Union), and to an environmental party in Paris. I have been faithful to those three commitments for 12 years now.
Could you tell us about your commitment to the abolitionist movement?
My commitment for the abolition of the death penalty dates back to 2008, when I read a press article that related the Troy Davis case, who was sentenced to death in Georgia. Only two hours before the scheduled execution time, he was told that he would receive a stay of execution. I found that to impose someone the coming of death, the clock ticking and the psychological distress, is absolutely inhuman.
I wanted to commit to one cause, and this case particularly moved me, which is why I decided to fight against the death penalty.
"I have an ambitious goal: the universal abolition of the death penalty."
You have just taken over the presidency of ECPM, what objectives have you set for this first mandate?
I set an ambitious goal: the universal abolition of the death penalty! I may not see it in my lifetime, yet this is what I want to fight for. For 20 years, ECPM has been moving towards this goal. The progress is visible on our interactive world map: it goes from red to blue, according to the situation of each State in regards to the death penalty. Years after years, the maps is increasingly blue, and I aspire it to be even bluer at the end of my mandate.
Regarding the organisation itself, I align with the work done by my predecessors. There is a lot to do in the education of the youth on those questions. In France, we have abolished the death penalty, yet it is still fundamental to keep speaking about it. Every time a new criminal case happen, we notice that the public opinion in our country is mostly in favour of the death penalty. This is why we must educate around it, as a change in governance could still go back, and we must avoid this. Worldwide, I want to support ECPM’s work in the States that have abolished the death penalty de facto, but not in their judicial system, especially in Africa, where we believe that countries are the next abolitionist lands.
What makes you think that African countries will be the next abolitionist lands?
Many African States, including Mali, my home country, have the death penalty implemented in their judicial corpus, but haven’t been applying it for many years. They don’t execute, but they keep the door open to new death penalty convictions and they can easily cross the line for politic reasons. A State that does not apply the death penalty anymore is ready the make the final leap to the abolition. Thanks to the advocacy actions, the parliamentary network that we built, the journalists we mobilized, ECPM can encourage such a ratchet effect. The World Congress against the death penalty, that takes place every three years, has a global impact in places where the heads of governments and ministers often commit to abolish the death penalty.
"A State that does not apply the death penalty anymore is ready the make the final leap to the abolition."
Is there a geographical area in which ECPM intends to work in the coming years, where there is a particular urgency regarding the death penalty?
In the Middle-East, the situation is quite urgent. We also target Africa, the next abolitionist continent, as well as the United States, who are hiding their position behind the principle of democracy. After the Trump era, a new hope surfaces, and we hope that middle-eastern governments will stop standing behind the USA’s practices and stop the executions.
Does the commitment against the death penalty still make sense today?
It does, because the death penalty still exists! As I was saying, any attack, crime, infanticide, rape, and the public sides with the death penalty. We are not free from going back to the death penalty when the governance of the country changes.
We are speaking about the right to life: human rights and civil liberties are fundamental, and fortunately, some people fight to have them respected, including in France. We fight against the death penalty because it is a matter of justice. To order someone’s death because they committed a crime is denying one’s humanity and renouncing to any rehabilitation after a prison sentence, or the possibility to find one’s place back into society after having lost their way. For instance, in the USA, death row inmates are sometimes executed 20 years after the facts. Very often, they changed so much as a person, it is terrible to execute someone who is not the same anymore.
What does the application of the death penalty say about our society?
In my opinion, the death penalty has no deterrent effect on criminals. The facts and figures show that it is not. In the United States, crime rate is much higher than in France, despite the existence of the death penalty. It is useless and it says that we no longer believe in the humanity of people. A person commits a fault, and they are exterminated, it is terrible. The society renounces the possibility of rehabilitation of a human person, which is for me the opposite of a democratic society.
"The death penalty has no deterrent effect on criminals. In the United States, crime rate is much higher than in France, despite the existence of the death penalty."
2021 marks the 40th anniversary of the abolition of the death penalty in France, what should we remember from this commemoration?
ECPM is an association that often works in discretion, and this will be an opportunity to highlight all the work done, as well as to involve young people, the activists of tomorrow, in this cause. It will also be an opportunity to celebrate the anniversary of a great victory for French democracy and to remind us that we must remain vigilant, because the fight continues. I would like our celebrations to interest the youth and to inspire new vocations in the activism against the death penalty, because it is the future of this cause.