The Tusk government has reversed Poland’s refusal to go along with a European Day Against Capital Punishment – a stand that had prevented the Council of Europe from establishing the day throughout Europe.
Joyful European ministers reacted to Tusk’s decision by immediately moving to establish the day.
Much of the rest of Europe had resented Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s refusal to accept such a day.
Poland was the only country out of 47 in the Council of Europe to refuse to go along with the designation. That refusal was tantamount to a veto because council rules require a unanimous vote of member countries before a special day can be established.
The Kaczynski government’s stand not only rankled other Europeans but also contradicted Poland’s own position on capital punishment.
The government stopped executing criminals 19 years ago and outlawed the death penalty 10 years ago.
Kaczynski had maintained that because no court with jurisdiction over all of Europe had outlawed the death penalty, there was no reason to have a European Day Against Capital Punishment.
Tusk’s decision to reverse Poland’s opposition to an anti-death-penalty day has already improved relations with the rest of Europe, according to Ministry of Internal Affairs and Administration Grzegorz Schetyna.
“Everything has changed in Poland,” he said. “The government has changed, Poland has changed and the decision has changed.”
Non-governmental organizations opposed to the death penalty designated October 10 an International Day Against Capital Punishment some years ago. The Council of Europe decided in September to establish a Europe-wide anti-death penalty day on October 10 as well.
In the last few weeks of his administration, Kaczynski refused to go along with the day. That killed the day for this year.
Kaczynski’s refusal prompted European leaders to describe Poland as being backward.
A leading European socialist, Martin Schulz of Germany, asked how long the rest of Europe would swallow Poland’s effort to block the day.
EU leaders should do everything they could to show how out of touch Poland was on the issue, Schulz said.
Tusk’s new Minister of Justice Zbigniew Cwiakalski contends that “there was no reason to object to establishing the European Day Against Capital Punishment.
I am surprised that Poland came out against it. Poland engaged in capital punishment for the last time in 1988, and it has been eliminated from the penal code for over 10 years.”
Klaus Buchman, a well-known German political scientist and journalist, said officials might be able to justify capital punishment in countries with no well-established legal and penal systems – as was the case in America’s Wild West territories.
Many territories lacked secure prisons, so there was a real threat of a dangerous criminal continuing to roam free, he suggested. Thus territorial governments often imposed the death penalty to threaten criminals by severity of punishment.
In Europe, however, legal and penal institutions are so strong that the death penalty has been abolished on human-rights grounds, Buchman said.
Nowadays, at least in Europe, capital punishment looks like a relic of the past. Some compare its abolition, in terms of moral force, to the abolition of slavery.