Renny Cushing is at the National Council of State Legislatures summit in Philadelphia this week; I caught up with him just before he left and got his report about last week's seminar in Madrid, "Towards a universal moratorium on the death penalty: The case of Arab Countries."
A primary goal of last week's seminar in Spain was to advance the goal of a worldwide moratorium, and the seminar opened with the Director of the Office of Human Rights for the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs explaining this motivation behind the meeting. (Spain will assume the presidency of the European Union next year, and the Spanish president recently laid out a proposal suggesting that the year 2015 be a year of worldwide moratorium on the death penalty. Back in 2007, MVFHR was involved with the effort to urge the United Nations General Assembly to pass a resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty.)
As its title indicates, the main focus of the seminar was on understanding the death penalty within Arab countries. About 60 people attended, mostly from Arab countries; Renny Cushing, representing MVFHR, was the only participant from the United States. Renny reports that it was very interesting to learn about the issues and questions surrounding the use of the death penalty in Arab countries -- for example, whether there is a religious justification for its use, and whether it serves as a deterrent. Because of the widespread assumption that victims' families view the death penalty as appropriate revenge or necessary justice, the seminar participants were very interested to learn about victim opposition to the death penalty.
There was also a lot of interest in U.S. efforts to eliminate the death penalty for people with mental illness and mental disabilities. Renny had been asked to focus some of his presentation on this aspect of MVFHR's work, and afterward he had some good discussion with a representative from a Spanish mental health group who seeks to urge mental health advocates around the world to speak out on this issue -- with the hope that exempting people with mental illness and mental disabilities from the death penalty might come to represent an international human rights standard.
Renny was also able to have some valuable discussions about families of the executed and MVFHR's No Silence, No Shame project, and to discuss the question of whether families of the executed can be viewed as victims under the UN Declaration of Universal Priciples of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power.
The seminar participants are hoping that a greater number of Arab countries will support, or at least refrain from opposing, the next UN resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium. The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty site has a brief article about the seminar, including a description of the "Madrid Declaration" that the group adopted.