Monday, January 10, 2011

Did you know...

Picture taken from
Susan Loone her blog.

that the death penalty wasn't taken out of Belgian criminal law until August 1, 1996?

This made Belgium the last country from the West-European continent that removed the death penalty from its criminal law.

Yeah, that shocked me.

I was aware that capital punishment had existed in our criminal law without being really executed, it always got turned into life imprisonment or forced labour.

The last execution in peacetime was in July 1863, when in Ypres a farmer was executed for murder
The last execution for an ordinary crime was on 26 March 1918 at Veurne Prison when Emile Ferfaille, a military officer found guilty of killing his pregnant girlfriend, was guillotined.
According to Wikipedia, this was the first execution to be carried out since 1863 and the guillotine had to be imported from France. This was at the end of the first World War I ("the Great War") and the sentence was not committed by a civil court.

The last executions in Belgium were done between November 1944 and August 1950 when 242 people were executed by firing squad for crimes committed during the World War II . 241 of them had been convicted as collaborators, the 242nd was the war criminal Philipp Schmitt, he was German and camp commander of the concentration camp Fort Breendonk (Antwerp) and later the Dossin Casern of the transit camp in Mechelen.

Still, the death penalty remained in our codex of law although, as I already mentioned, it always got turned into forced labour (and later into imprisonment for life).
In the article by Amnesty International they use the beautiful Dutch word genademaatregel.

That the death penalty was finally eradicated from our law system (whether in practice or not), is partly because of an international awareness and because other countries were hesitating to extradite people that were suspected of a crime committed on Belgian territory.
Amnesty International mentions the case of Bonato Di Donato, an Italian who was a suspect in the murder of the journalist Stéphane Steinier. Italy convicted him to 25 years of imprisonment (in Chieti), but refused to turn him over to Belgium in 1995, because the death penalty was still part of our criminal law.

On August 1, 1996, Belgium formally abolished capital punishment and forced labour. To prevent it from ever coming back, the prohibition of the death penalty was included in our Belgian Constitution on February 2, 2005 by inserting an Article 14bis: The death penalty is abolished.

Sources: Amnesty International / Wikipedia NL / Wikipedia EN



  1. On the other hand: Holland didn't abolish the death penalty until 2010.

    It was already out of the Dutch constitution since 1982, but not yet cancelled from law overseas (like the Netherlands Antilles).


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