Interview by SU Strasbourg student Elizabeth Nagle
When one thinks of “death penalty in France”, the thoughts that usually come to mind are of massive revolutions and the accompanying guillotine. Nowadays, mention of the death penalty in France more readily refers to the capital punishment abolition campaigns promoted by the Council of Europe, which happens to be based in Strasbourg, France.
The SU Abroad Strasbourg program is known for its programs concerning EU studies, International Relations, Human Rights, and so on. One of the great opportunities offered is a chance to intern at the Council of Europe (COE), a 47-member state international organization specializing in human rights, including the abolition of the death penalty.
Muireann Mageras was one of six students to be awarded this internship at the COE for the Fall 2009 semester. As an active part of the COE’s “Day Against the Death Penalty” campaign, she sat down with me to answer a few questions regarding her internship and role in this campaign.
Name: Muireann Mageras
School: Johns Hopkins University
Major: International Studies
Q: Can you explain what the purpose of the Council of Europe is?
A: The council is Europe’s oldest and largest political organization, working to uphold and promote human rights, democracy, and rule of law in its 47 member states.
Q: What is your role as an intern at the COE?
A: My work at the COE has been primarily research-based. I work in the Public Relations office of the Communications Directorate, so I’ve done background research for our projects such as an upcoming campaign against sexual exploitation for next year. I’ve also worked on discrimination against the Roma minority and abolition of the death penalty.
Q: Why is the death penalty such a big focus, and how did your group work to promote its abolition?
A: The death penalty has been abolished in every member state of the Council of Europe – no state is allowed to become a member who practices capital punishment. It’s an important topic, however, because many constituents throughout Europe still support the death penalty in theory (even though their governments have done away with it). The COE sponsors an annual “Day Against the Death Penalty” on October 10th. This year we featured a televised debate with three leading human rights experts in the field who discussed the intricacies of this topic.
Q: What are your thoughts about working at an international organization such as the COE?
A: I am absolutely fascinated by international organizations such as the COE and admire not only the work they do, but what they stand for. Aside from the obviously amazing opportunity to be exposed to such interesting work, I have especially found the exposure to European perspectives on sensitive issues such as the death penalty fascinating. Growing up in America we are accustomed to the death penalty – and though I do not agree with it myself, I accepted it as an institution. Working at the COE has shown me that an entire continent has abolished the practice and there are groups working on active abolition campaigns. It’s an entire mindset and viewpoint that I wasn’t aware existed to such an extent. I think exposure to different ideas and perspectives such as these is an invaluable part of working for this organization.
Q: How do you like working at the COE?
A: I love it! I wouldn’t trade my experience here for anything – I’ve worked on fascinating projects and met amazing people. I wish I could stay here longer.