Robert Badinter, Who Won Fight to End Death Penalty in France, Dies at 95

Robert Badinter, a French lawyer and former justice minister who led the fight to abolish the death penalty in France and became one of the country’s most respected intellectual figures, died early Friday. He was 95.

His death was confirmed by Aude Napoli, his spokeswoman.

“Robert Badinter never ceased to advocate the Enlightenment,” President Emmanuel Macron wrote on social media, hailing him as a “figure of the century” who incarnated the “French spirit.”

Mr. Badinter spent decades as an esteemed defense lawyer but was best known for enacting the 1981 law that abolished capital punishment in France, one of his very first acts as justice minister in the Socialist government of President François Mitterrand.

“Tomorrow, thanks to you, France’s justice will no longer be a justice that kills,” Mr. Badinter told lawmakers in 1981, in a fiery, hourslong speech defending the law.

He achieved this in the face of wide public support for the death penalty at the time. The fight against capital punishment stood at the core of his lifelong defense of human rights against oppression and cruelty.

In “The Execution,” a 1973 book, he vividly recalled “the sharp snap” of the guillotine blade as he witnessed the execution of one of his clients, a traumatizing experience that he said led him to campaign against the death penalty. Decades later, in a 2010 interview with The New York Times, he still referred to the guillotine as “my old enemy.”

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