Abolition of the death penalty in France (1981)

Abolition of the death penalty in France (1981)

The September 18, 1981, the National Assembly adopts the law abolishing the death penalty, after an ardent plea by Minister of Justice Robert Badinter in favor of the abolition of the death penalty. Until the 1980s, the debate on the death penalty had been periodically revived in France, the last European nation to maintain it. Its abolition being part of the program of the left, a bill in this direction is presented to the National Assembly immediately after the election of François Mitterrand as President of the Republic.

A long road to abolishing the death penalty

The passage of the law abolishing the death penalty is the culmination of a fight started in 1908 by Jean Jaurès and Aristide Briand, who fail to voice their hostility to this penalty. From the 1950s, fourteen years after the ban on public executions, the opposition grew in number and took shape: Albert Camus took the lead in Reflections on Capital Punishment (1957) and set the scene; intellectuals (Arthur Koestler, then Michel Foucault and Gilles Perrault), journalists (Albert Naud, then Jean-Marc Théolleyre), singers (Julos Beaucarne, Claude Nougaro), lawyers (Robert Badinter) commit themselves in favor of the 'abolition.

From 1978 (in the year following the last capital execution, in September 1977), the abolitionist fight was waged relentlessly in the National Assembly by the left opposition, but also by part of the majority: members of the Rassemblement pour la République (RPR), in particular Pierre Bas, Philippe Séguin and Jacques Chirac, are trying to obtain a parliamentary debate from the Keeper of the Seals, Alain Peyrefitte. The latter is personally attached to the maintenance of the death penalty: he sees it as the ultimate weapon of deterrence in the fight against crime, while his companions affirm that there is no link between the death penalty and the evolution bloody crime.

While death sentences, almost non-existent between 1977 and 1980, suddenly increased (ten between October 1980 and May 1981), the Socialist Party (PS) included abolition on its program and François Mitterrand, candidate for the presidential election, recalls, in March 1981, that he is "in conscience against the death penalty" and that he will not carry out any execution before the abolition of the law.

The law abolishing the death penalty of September 18, 1981

On the evening of François Mitterrand’s election, everyone knows that the guillotine is over. Lawyer Robert Badinter, who has become Minister of Justice, proposes the law of abolition to parliamentarians: "Tomorrow, thanks to you, French justice will no longer be a justice that kills. Tomorrow, thanks to you, there will no longer be, to our common shame, stealth executions at dawn, under the black canopy, in French prisons. Tomorrow the bloody pages of our justice will be turned. On September 18, 1981, the National Assembly voted for abolition by 363 votes in favor and 117 against. Analysis of the ballot shows that 16 RPR deputies and 21 UDF approve the text, while 68 RPR and 38 UDF vote against; left-wing MPs are almost unanimous in favor of abolition. This law makes " get France out of this period which had ostracized it from the great civilized nations », In the words of Raymond Forni, the rapporteur of the bill.

The last state in Western Europe to abolish the death penalty, three years after Spain, France confirms its decision in 1984 by ratifying the European Convention on Human Rights, an international treaty which formally excludes the use of the death penalty .

The guillotines have now become museum pieces. The two models formerly used in Fresnes prison are now in the reserves of the Carnavalet museum in Paris.

For further

- History of the abolition of the death penalty, by Jean-Yves Le Naour. Perrin, 2011.

- Abolition, by Robert Badinter. Pocket Book, 2011.


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