Address the crime, not the criminal.
On 15th February 2017, we had the privilege of meeting the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, at a conference held at Strathmore University where he was due to deliver a keynote speech later that afternoon.
This was the first public appearance of the recently departed Secretary-General who, during his time with the UN, advocated for the abolition of the death penalty and published the ‘Revised Nelson Mandela Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners’. Despite having ended his time with the UN, it was inspiring to see his continued passion for the abolition of the death penalty and to hear him speak of his shared interest in protecting the dignity of prisoners.
Prior to Ban’s keynote speech, APP beneficiary, Susan Kigula, had the opportunity to share her inspiring story of perseverance, leading to applause from the audience of diplomats and students as she spoke of her journey from death row inmate to University of London graduate.
As Ban took to the stage he acknowledged his admiration for the journey Susan and other APP beneficiaries have taken to redeem themselves from the face of death. He unequivocally condemned the human rights abuses of prisoners. In his moving speech, he reminded us that there is indeed a necessity to punish for the crimes that have been committed, but only the crimes, and not the criminals.
No matter the nature of the crime, with reference to the UN charter, he affirmed that in no given circumstances can we sacrifice the dignity of prisoners.
He was pleased to say that two-thirds of the United Nations member states are respecting the UN moratorium on the death penalty resolution, which called for general suspension of capital punishment throughout the world. However, he acknowledged the importance of working towards the abolition of the death penalty universally. In his own words,
“Life is too precious; once one is executed there is no way to recover and prove for sure there was justification for execution.”
Following his speech, Ban took a number of questions from the students of Strathmore University. He was asked about the illegality and inhumanity of the death penalty and how he foresees the improvement of facilities for prisoners.
The former Secretary-General referred to the UN International Crime Tribunals as an example of how the UN is leading in refraining from the execution of criminals who have been convicted for crimes of the worst nature, such as crimes against humanity and genocide.
As well as addressing the death penalty, Ban emphasised the importance of using prisons as correctional facilities rather than institutions of punishment. He urged member states who don’t currently meet the minimum standards prescribed in the Nelson Mandela Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners to improve. He insisted that convicted prisoners should have equal opportunity to reintegrate into society as an honorary citizen once they finish their term in prison.
In his closing remarks he referred to the case of Susan Kigula as a bright example and urged to ensure that more is done to respect the dignity of prisoners, irrespective of their crimes. “We can hate the crimes, but not the criminals”.
We were delighted to hear Ban Ki-moon share in our vision of prisons as places of positive transformation, focusing on human rights and rehabilitation. We hope that he will continue to influence nations and leaders in the abolition of the death penalty and that we’ll see many more prisons around the world upholding the dignity of those they serve.