The English translation of a behind-the-scenes account of the abolition of the death penalty in France
Part legal drama, part political procedural, Abolition is above all a passionate argument against the death penalty and the rare story of politicians’ willingness to fight for their principles, even against the popular will.
Horrified by the guillotine execution of one of his clients in 1972, Robert Badinter dedicated his life to the abolition of the death penalty. Here, he recounts his efforts to publicly subvert the death penalty system by orchestrating the appeals for a series of notorious murderers. The author provides an intriguing look at the various legal strategies used in these highly publicized criminal trials and an eyewitness account of the debate in France over the best methods of dealing with crime and punishment.
The second part of Badinter’s campaign was political. While a majority of the French people supported the guillotine, France (the birthplace of the Enlightenment and the Declaration of the Rights of Man) had, embarrassingly, become the last country in Western Europe to continue to use the death penalty. With then president, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, having firmly stated that France wasn’t yet ready to do away with the guillotine, Badinter knew that the only hope for abolition was a victory by Mitterand in the 1981 presidential elections. Eventually named Minister of Justice, Badinter then concentrated his energies on passing legislation that would end the death penalty in France once and for all. This is not only the story of a one man’s battle against the death penalty but also a clarion call for political bravery in the face of America’s increasing isolation on this critical issue.
ROBERT BADINTER is a lawyer, professor, politician, and author. He has served as Minister of Justice and as the president of the Conseil constitutionnel. He currently sits in the French senate and remains active in the global fight against the death penalty, having been one of the founders of the World Congress Against the Death Penalty. He has written nearly a dozen books, including works on Oscar Wilde and the Marquis of Condorcet. He is married to prominent author and feminist Elisabeth Badinter. JEREMMY MERCER is the author of numerous books including Champagne Gang (1998), Time Was Soft There (2005), and the forthcoming When the Guillotine Fell (2008). He lives in Marseille, France. KENNETH ROTH is the executive director of Human Rights Watch.