Robert Badinter, a fierce defender of human rights, defense lawyer, and former French justice minister who led the effort to abolish the death penalty in his country, died on February 9, 2024. Mr. Badinter influenced many legal changes, including laws that decriminalized homosexuality, improved prison conditions, and advocated for his own particular concept of justice. As a defense lawyer, Mr. Badinter witnessed the execution of one of his clients, and vividly recalled the horrors involved with the use of the guillotine. In 1981, one of his first official actions as Justice Minister was to seek the abolition of the death penalty in France. “A country passionate about freedom cannot retain the death penalty as part of its laws,” he said.  Following the enaction of the law abolishing capital punishment, Mr. Badinter told his colleagues that “tomorrow, thanks to you, France’s justice will no longer be a justice that kills.” 

Mr. Badinter served as France’s Minister of Justice from 1981 to 1986, where he overcame public support for the death penalty and gained parliamentary support for abolition. For nearly the next decade Mr. Badinter worked as the president of France’s Constitutional Council, which reviews French law to ensure it aligns with the constitution. Following his role as president, Mr. Badinter served in the French Senate as a representative of the Socialist party from 1995 to 2011, where “he progressively came to resemble the conscience of the republic, a fervent defender of the rule of law.”

Born in Paris to Jewish immigrants from Bessarabia in March 1928, Mr. Badinter “was raised to respect the liberal values and tolerance of the French republic.” In 1943, during the height of World War II, Mr. Badinter’s father was deported from France and sent to a Nazi death camp, from which he never returned. 

After the announcement of his death, French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters that Mr. Badinter “is a touchstone for many generations” and that he is a “figure of the century” who “never ceased to advocate for the ideas of the Enlightenment.” France’s current Minister of Justice and former defense lawyer Éric Dupond-Moretti said on social media that as someone who was “deeply committed to justice, an advocate of abolition, a man of law and passion, [Mr. Badinter] leaves a void that matches his legacy: immeasurable.”


Roger Cohen and Aurelien Breeden, Robert Badinter, Who Won Fight to End Death Penalty in France, Dies at 95, The News York Times, February 9, 2024; Angela Charlton, Robert Badinter, who led France to end the death penal­ty and fought Holocaust denial, has died at 95, Associated Press, February 92024.

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