Robert Badinter, who led France to end death penalty, dies at 95

Human rights defender and former justice minister saw one of his own clients lose his head to a guillotine

Robert Badinter, who spearheaded the drive to abolish France’s death penalty, campaigned against anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, and led a European body dealing with the legal fallout of Yugoslavia’s break-up, has died. He was 95.

French president Emmanuel Macron hailed Mr Badinter, a revered human rights defender and former justice minister, as a “figure of the century” who “never ceased to advocate for the ideas of the Enlightenment”.

The French justice ministry on Friday confirmed Mr Badinter’s death, without providing details.

A famed lawyer and thinker, Mr Badinter was best-known for his sustained push to end capital punishment.


He described seeing one of his own clients lose his head to a guillotine, which was used up until the 1970s to kill criminals in France.

Over his career, he saved six men from execution, eliciting death threats in the process.

As justice minister under then-president François Mitterrand, Mr Badinter overcame public opposition and won parliamentary support for abolishing the death penalty in 1981.

Born in Paris in 1928 to a Jewish family, Mr Badinter saw Nazi horrors and France’s collaboration up close during the second World War, and lost his father in the Sobibor death camp, according to Mr Macron’s office.

As a lawyer, Mr Badinter later pursued a notorious Holocaust denier in court.

Mr Badinter went on to lead France’s constitutional court, served as a senator for 16 years and was seen as a moral compass for many in France for his defence of human rights.

In 1991, Mr Badinter led an arbitration body set up by the European Economic Community to provide the Peace Conference on Yugoslavia with legal advice after two of the country’s six republics – Slovenia and Croatia – had declared independence.

The Badinter Commission, as the body became known, was made up of presidents of constitutional courts of the member nations of the EEC, a precursor to the EU.

The Badinter Commission issued 15 legal opinions between 1991 and 1993, including one saying that the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had dissolved.

It paved the way for international recognition of Slovenia and Croatia as sovereign countries in 1992.

Mr Macron will preside over a special national homage to Mr Badinter, the president’s office said.

In his statement, Mr Macron honoured the memory of a “wise man of the republic” who “after having experienced the tragedy of the century, embodied the most beautiful part of hope”.