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“How I brought people together and called for Guinea to abolish the death penalty”

By Souleymane Sow, Amnesty International volunteer, Guinea

Souleymane Sow, 43, is a man with a mission. He has been volunteering with Amnesty International since he was a student. Inspired to make a difference, he returned to Guinea, set up a local group of Amnesty International volunteers and got to work. Their aim? To promote the importance of human rights, educate people on these issues and abolish the death penalty. Along with 34 NGOs, they finally achieved their goal last year.

Souleymane is a death penalty activist from West Africa. Souleymane is a death penalty activist from West Africa.
Souleymane Sow

I’ve always been against the death penalty. So many people were killed during the first regime – just because of their politics. Seeing people who’d lost their parents made me want to take the fight for abolition further.

When I returned to Guinea, I formed a group of volunteers and we started educating people about human rights. Elections took place in 2015 and a new programme was launched, focusing on renewing all our laws in parliament.

I knew this was a key opportunity to speak out. I contacted Amnesty International’s regional office in Dakar, to see how we could lobby against the death penalty. Once they were on board, we issued a statement about the changes we wanted to see.

Momentum was building and 34 other NGOs decided to join our mission to abolish the death penalty in Guinea. One by one, we arranged meetings with ministers and other deputies, explaining why this awful practice had to be abolished. I provided all the information they needed and we had open, honest discussions.

As the campaign ramped up, we made our voices heard. We distributed campaign materials, such as stickers and T-Shirts, calling for an end to the death penalty. I was invited to the Ministry of Justice to discuss the issue further, putting across my argument, with the aim of changing their mindset – it was so important to talk to people and explain why the death penalty needed to be abolished.

We listened to their ideas and questioned their reasoning, providing examples and arguments about why the death penalty didn’t have a place in today’s society.  

My colleagues and I lobbied against the death penalty every day for five months. In 2016, Guinea’s National Assembly voted in favour of a new criminal code which removed the death sentence from the list of applicable penalties.  Last year, they did the same in the military court, too.

It was such an incredible achievement – and it showed the importance of people power. It was the first time so many NGOs had come together to campaign on an issue. People said they were happy with our work and they could see that change is possible.

Most of all, it inspired us to continue campaigning. There’s still a lot of work to do in Guinea, but having seen the impact we can have, I know much more good can be achieved.