Closing ceremony at The 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty
Excellencies, Mayor, dear colleagues and friends
Three years ago, we established a new university network – Universities Against the Death Penalty (http://www.uio.no/english/about/collaboration/universities-against-death-penalty/) . The initiative was taken here at the University of Oslo, and more than 30 universities have chosen to join this network thus far. Many of the member universities are European, but we also have members from other parts of the world – including countries such as Brazil, South Africa and Lebanon. Just last night we received a letter from Universidad Autónoma de Chile, asking to join. Dear colleagues and friends: upon your return to your own countries, let it be known that the network is open for all universities. When universities unite in their fight against death penalty, they will have a voice that cannot be ignored.
Universities as institutions should not normally take a stance on specific issues. However, there are times through history when universities have joined forces, as they did against apartheid and slavery. The fight against the death penalty has the same kind of urgency. I stand here strong in my conviction that universities can and should take a stance.
A primary task of universities is to carry out high quality research. Over many decades now, research has accumulated to show that death penalty in no way reduces serious crime. Nor does it instill a greater sense of justice and fairness in society. The death penalty is an act of violence that creates more violence and that is in conflict with human dignity, a wealth of research, and all the values our universities stand for. Universities should see it as their obligation and their mission to communicate this to the society at large and to the states that have chosen to uphold the death penalty. Our voice will be strong because it is boosted by research of the highest standard and by the strength of arguments rooted in philosophy and ethics.
Here, in City Hall where the Nobel Peace Prize is handed out, we should remember that the fight against death penalty is a fight for democracy, dignity and non-violence. These are all core elements of peace. Thus the venue for this closing session could not have been more appropriate. We thank our Mayor for opening this hall for this most important congress. And we remind ourselves of the powerful statement, given by Elie Wiesel when he gave his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1986, in the University Aula: ”Action is the only remedy to indifference, the most insidious danger of all.”
Postscript: Just a few days after I gave this speech, quoting Elie Wiesel at the end, the news came out that Wiesel had passed away, on 2 July. As we are mourning his death, we remain grateful for his moral courage and leadership. His speeches and writings will endure. His Nobel Prize acceptance speech, given at my own university in 1986, is still a source of inspiration whenever we seek an intellectual foothold in a world of conflict and turbulence. Many are the quotes that survive from this speech, including the one incorporated at the end of my own talk in the City Hall on June 23. I could easily have referred to an additional speech of his - a speech he gave in October 2010 and that addressed the issue of death penalty head on. Speaking to an audience at the Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Elie Wiesel stated that murderers should be punished harshly, but that "death is not the answer." This is the full quote: “I know the pain of those who survive. Believe me, I know… Your wound is open. It will remain. You are mourning, and how can I not feel the pain of your mourning? But death is not the answer.” (Source: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/new-voices-elie-wiesel-speaks-about-death-penalty)