World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Appreciation of decision to commute the death sentence

17 January 2003

Letter to H.E. George Ryan, Former Governor of Illinois, 17 January, 2003


Your Excellency,

The World Council of Churches welcomes and appreciates your decision of
11th January, as Governor of the State of Illinois, to commute the death sentences
of 167 prisoners on death row to life in prison without parole. Your action based
on the desire to fulfill a moral obligation because the system is "haunted by the
demon of error" is a bold and significant statement that questions capital punishment.

For years, churches and human rights organizations have said that the death
penalty is a punishment that is often used in a discriminatory way on the poor,
minorities, on oppressed groups within societies, or against political opponents
of those in power.

The Council believes that all human beings created in God's image have inherent
dignity and are of infinite worth and that the taking of human life is against
the will of God. Capital punishment operates against the Christian principles of
compassion, love and forgiveness. To promote the abolition of capital punishment
is an expression of Christian belief in the sanctity of life. As a long-standing advocate
for the abolition of capital punishment the Council has consistently urged
governments to sign and ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that aims at abolition of the death penalty.

In keeping with this position the World Council of Churches has campaigned
with other international organizations for abolition of the death penalty in the
United States of America and we are therefore greatly encouraged by your action.

It is our hope that the decision taken by you in this matter will stimulate others
concerned in the United States, and other countries as well, to review and
reconsider the flaws inherent in the system of capital punishment.

Sincerely yours,

Peter Weiderud