Last night, the Clinton School welcomed David O’Sullivan, European Union Ambassador to the United States.
He spoke, mostly, of grand problems in the institutional project of the EU — Brexit, populist movements, trade not mitigated by social policies — and argued for the value of the EU’s bureaucracy (as opposed to blowing up the EU).
But he also spoke about Arkansas. The EU opposes the death penalty. No state can join that imposes death as a sentence. And as EU ambassador to the United States, O’Sullivan often sends a hand-signed letter when a state nears the killing of an inmate to persuade officials against capital punishment. Last April, when Arkansas planned to kill eight men in 11 days, his pleas became part of the series of stories written about the problems of such a schedule.
An audience member asked him about that last night.
Here’s what he said, in full:
“Well the European Union believes very strongly that the death penalty is a mistake. Wrong, but also a mistake. And it is a pre-condition for a country to join the European Union that they cannot be — that they cannot use the death penalty.
Now, that’s our view. We hold it very strongly. We believe in spreading that view globally. We intervene everywhere to try to persuade people of that view. Of course, we do so respectfully. I mean at the end of the day it is for every country to make up it’s mind. But we think this is a particularly important issue of human rights. And so we do make that known here in the United States. We work a lot with groups who are campaigning for the abolition of the death penalty.
I must say some of the things I’ve done — some of the most amazing people I’ve met are exonerees. Who’ve sometimes [spent] a long time on death row and then been found not guilty. And those are the most amazing people because not one of them is bitter or vindictive. They’re full of hope for the future and [it’s] remarkable.
So, yes, we do that. I want to emphasize we do it respectfully, at the end of the day we do it respectfully. It’s your decision. And we know that. But that’s our view. And we feel that we have to. Just as people tell us sometimes you have to be willing to defend human rights in China. So, I think it’d be inconsistent if we didn’t say [something]. We say the same thing to the Chinese, by the way, who are also pretty good at executing people. I think it’d be pretty hypocritical if we didn’t have the courage to say to you what we believe. But I emphasize, at the end of the day, it is of course your own decision. I just note that more and more states are, actually, setting aside the death penalty as a means. Because it’s very — it’s not even a good means of managing criminal issues. But we could have a long discussion about that.”
Also this week, at the Festival du Film et Forum International
Directed by Anne-Frédérique Widmann, and titled “Free Men”, the film follows Reams’ wife, French artist Isabelle Watson Reams.
According to a blogger covering the festival, “Kenneth Reams’ cell will be recreated in Pitoëff, at the
Reams has become somewhat famous — largely outside of Arkansas — as an artist since his incarceration. He’s already collaborated with the French cartoonist Patrick Chappatte and Widman on cartoons published in the New York Times opinion section.
All this continued international attention comes a little more than a year after, on March 2, 2017, the New York Times published an article headlined “Arkansas Rushes to Execute 8 Men in the Space of 10 Days.”