The first campaign towards the abolition of the death penalty began on 30 May, 1791. On October 6 of that year the National Assembly passed a law refusing to abolish the death penalty; however they did abolish torture. With this law, they also declared that there would now be only one method of execution: 'Tout condamné à mort aura la tête tranchée' (Anyone condemned to death will have their head cut off)
The guillotine had been proposed as a means of execution in 1789 by Joseph-Ignace Guillotin. 1792 and the French Revolution marked the end of hanging by requiring all executions to be accomplished by means of the blade, rather than reserving it only for nobles. However, as beheading by a hand-held axe or blade is a comparatively inefficient method of execution compared to hanging, the suggestion of the mechanical guillotine was adopted. The idea behind the guillotine was a more humane way to take the life of the condemned, rather than the messy earlier ways of execution. The device was first used on Nicholas-Jacques Pelletier on April 25, 1792. Guillotine usage then spread to other countries, namely French colonies in Africa and French Indochina.
The 1940s and the wartime period saw an increase in the number of executions, including the first executions of women since the 19th century.
In the 1950s to the 1970s, the number of executions steadily decreased, with for example President Georges Pompidou between 1969 to 1974, giving clemency to all but three people out of the fifteen sentenced to death. President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing oversaw the last executions.
President Charles de Gaulle, who supported the death penalty, commuted 19 death sentences and during his term 13 people were guillotined, and few others executed by firing squad for crimes against security of state (the last of them was OAS member, Lt. Colonel Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry, who was an organizer of famous assassination attempt on de Gaulle in 1962).
Jean-Laurent Olivier, guillotined in 1969, had originally his sentence commuted by de Gaulle. Olivier however refused a pardon and was executed.
There were no executions during two terms of Interim President Alain Poher in 1969 and 1974.
President Georges Pompidou, who personally was a death penalty opponent, commuted all but three death sentences imposed during his term.
President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who, according to his own words, "felt a deep aversion to the death penalty", also commuted all but three death sentences. He was President at the time of the last execution in France.
One of the examples of general amnesty for all people sentenced to death and awaiting execution took place in 1959 when, after de Gaulle's inauguration, all sentences were commuted (amnesty in not an executive clemency but act of parliament).
On October 26, 1795, the National Convention abolished capital punishment, but only to signify the day of general peace. With the arrival of Napoleon Bonaparte, the death penalty, which in fact hadn't yet been abolished, was reinstated on February 12, 1810, in the French Imperial Penal Code.
The President of the Republic Armand Fallières, a supporter of abolition, continued to systematically pardon every convict condemned to death over his fisrt three year of his seven-year office.
In 1906 the Commission of the budget of the Chamber of Députés voted for the suppression of funding for the guillotine. This vote aimed at stopping the execution procedure. On July 3, 1908, the Garde des Sceaux, Aristide Briand, submitted a plan of law to the députés, dated November 1906, on the abolition of the death penalty. Despite the support of Jean Jaurès, the plan was rejected on December 8 by 330 votes against 201.
Under the Vichy Regime, Marshal Pétain refused to pardon eight women who would be guillotined (something which had not occurred for nearly 50 years) and five others condemned of common right. Pétain himself would be sentenced to death following the overthrow of the Vichy Regime and subsequent trails of Vichy officials. General Charles de Gaulle needed to grant final approval on Pétain's execution; he ultimately disapproved the death sentence and commuted Pétain's sentence to life imprisonment on the grounds of poor health.
With an indictment from Robert Badinter, Patrick Henry escaped being condemned to death on January 21, 1977 for the murder of a child. Numerous newspapers predict the end of the death penalty. On September 10, 1977, Hamida Djandoubi was guillotined, the last person executed in France.
Robert Badinter, a long time opponent of capital punishment and the defending lawyer of some of the last men executed, became minister of justice and proposed the final abolition of the death penalty in 1981, which was pushed through the National Assembly with the backing of newly elected president François Mitterrand. The book Le Pull-over rouge and consequent film, documenting the possibly unsound conviction and execution of one of these, Christian Ranucci, is credited with helping to bring about this abolition.
On December 20, 1985, France ratified "additional protocol number 6" at the European Convention to safeguard human rights and fundamental liberties. This meant that France can no longer re-establish the death penalty, except in times of war or by denouncing the Convention.
On June 21, 2001, Jacques Chirac sent a letter to the association "Ensemble" saying he was against the death penalty: "It's a fight which we have to lead with determination and conviction. Because no justice is infallible and each execution can kill an innocent. Because nothing can legitimize the execution of minors or of people suffering from mental deficiencies. Because death can never constitute an act of justice".
On May 3 2002, France and 30 other countries signed Protocol number 13 to the European Convention on human rights. This forbids the death penalty in all circumstances, even in times of war. It went into effect on July 1, 2003, after having been ratified by 10 states.
Despite the above, in 2004, a law proposition (number 1521) was placed before the French National Assembly, suggesting re-establishment of the death penalty for terrorist acts. The proposition was not adopted. On January 3 2006, Jacques Chirac announced a revision of the Constitution aimed at writing off the death penalty. (On the previous October 13, the Constitutional Council had deemed the ratification of the second optional protocol of the international pact necessitated such a revision of the Constitution. The protocol concerned civil and political rights aimed at abolishing the death penalty.)
On February 19, 2007, the Congress of France (the National Assembly and the Senate of France, reunited for the day) voted overwhelmingly a modification of the Constitution that states that "no one can be sentenced to the death penalty". There 828 votes for the modification, and 26 against.
As with all surveys on a subject this sensitive, public opinion is quite changeable, depending on current affairs. The different surveys taken have shown that, at the time of appalling crimes (particularly those which affect children), public opinion can quickly return to a majority in favour of re-establishing capital punishment.
|Executed person||Date of execution||Place of execution||Crime||Method||Under President|
|Jean Dupont||April 14, 1959||Paris||Child murder with premeditation||Guillotine||Charles de Gaulle|
|Abcha Ahmed||July 30, 1959||Metz||Murder with premeditation||Guillotine||Charles de Gaulle|
|René Pons||June 21, 1960||Bordeaux||Matricide||Guillotine||Charles de Gaulle|
|Georges Rapin||July 27, 1960||Paris||Murder with premeditation||Guillotine||Charles de Gaulle|
|Dehil Salah||October 1, 1961||Paris||Murder with premeditation||Guillotine||Charles de Gaulle|
|Louis Jalbaud||December 7, 1961||Marseille||Multiple murders before robbery||Guillotine||Charles de Gaulle|
|Lt. Roger Degueldre||July 6, 1962||Ivry-sur-Seine||Treason/Multiple Murders||Firing Squad||Charles de Gaulle|
|Lt. Col. Jean Bastien-Thiry||March 11, 1963||Ivry-sur-Seine||Treason/Assassination attempt against the President||Firing Squad||Charles de Gaulle|
|Stanislas Juhant||March 17, 1964||Paris||Murder after robbery||Guillotine||Charles de Gaulle|
|Raymond Anama||June 17, 1964||Fort-de-France||Murder with premeditation||Guillotine||Charles de Gaulle|
|Robert Actis||June 27, 1964||Lyon||Murder before robbery||Guillotine||Charles de Gaulle|
|Mazouz Ghaouti||June 27, 1964||Lyon||Murder with premeditation||Guillotine||Charles de Gaulle|
|Lambert Gau||June 22, 1965||Fort-de-France||Murder with premeditation||Guillotine||Charles de Gaulle|
|Saïd Hachani||October 11, 1966||Lyon||Multiple murders with premeditation||Guillotine||Charles de Gaulle|
|Gunther Volz||December 26, 1967||Paris||Child murder after rape||Guillotine||Charles de Gaulle|
|Jean-Laurent Olivier||March 11, 1969||Metz||Multiple child murders after rape||Guillotine||Charles de Gaulle|
|Roger Bontems||November 28, 1972||Paris||Felony murder, Buffet's accomplice||Guillotine||Georges Pompidou|
|Claude Buffet||November 28, 1972||Paris||Warden murder while already serving a life sentence||Guillotine||Georges Pompidou|
|Ali Benyanes||May 12, 1973||Marseille||Child murder after attemped murder||Guillotine||Georges Pompidou|
|Christian Ranucci||July 28, 1976||Marseille||Child murder after kidnapping||Guillotine||Valery Giscard d'Estaing|
|Jerôme Carrein||June 23, 1977||Douai||Child murder after rape||Guillotine||Valery Giscard d'Estaing|
|Hamida Djandoubi||September 10, 1977||Marseille||Torture murder||Guillotine||Valery Giscard d'Estaing|
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