人物專訪:海倫‧普雷松修女

文章來源:國際特赦組織通訊WIRE(世界人權宣言六十週年特刊) 

本期
WIRE專訪Helen Prejean修女,她是羅馬天主教會的修女,也是廢除死刑運動者。她創辦了Survive(倖存)組織,會址設在美國紐奧良,是一個由命案受害者組成的倡議團體。同時她也為待決死囚與命案被害人家屬提供心理諮商。她寫的《越過死亡線:目擊美國的死刑制度》一書,曾獲1993年普立茲獎提名。 

人權是與生俱來的,既不能被剝奪,也不能被賞賜。人權不是政府看到你做了好事才給予你的,也不能因為你做了壞事就將它拿走。
 

問:何事使你燃起對人權的關注?
答:在1980年代早期,我跟貧困的非裔美國人住在一起。那是另外一個美國。我目睹了苦難與不義,並受邀去探視一位待決死囚,他的名字叫Patrick Sonnier。於是我寫信給他,他也回信給我,後來我就到獄中去探視他。兩年半過後,我告訴他,當他們要把他推上電椅殺死時,他可以看到我的臉。(編案:美國處決死囚時允許相關人士旁觀。)這件事徹底改變了我的生命。我成為國家殺人的目擊者,所以我必須把事情說出來。我也開始接觸受害者的家屬,看到死刑對平復他們傷痛一點幫助也沒有。 

問:你認為在反對人權迫害上最主要的挑戰是什麼?
答:多數人不認為死刑是一項人權迫害。他們認為這是公平的懲罰,或為了保護社會必須的手段。所以你必須讓人們與你感同身受──你要和他們一起憤怒譴責罪行,但同時帶領他們去體會處決的整個過程,體會奉命執行處決的獄警心中的感受。 

問:如果你只能改變一件事,你想改變什麼?
答:廢除死刑。藉由廢除死刑,我們可以消滅其背後的種族歧視、減輕對窮人的打擊、根除暴力可以解決社會問題的想法。 

問:國際特赦組織對你而言代表什麼意涵?
答:我從國際特赦組織學到人權是與生俱來的,既不能被剝奪,也不能被賞賜。人權不是政府看到你做了好事才給予你的,也不能因為你做了壞事就將它拿走。在這方面,國際特赦組織比天主教會更早就成了我的老師,因為天主教會過去曾在死刑問題上採取妥協的立場。 

問:你的行動讓你學到最重要的一件事是什麼?
答:從最簡單的行動開始。寫一封信給某個人。只要我們願意讓心中這朵玫瑰盛開,那將會改變我們的整個生命,因為它是為所有人的尊嚴挺身而出。需要改變的不是別人,是我們。我們可以從中學習到:人只能活一次,生命是可貴的。



This issue, the Wire meets Sister Helen Prejean, a Roman Catholic nun and a leading anti-death penalty activist. She is the founder of Survive, a victim's advocacy group in New Orleans and counsellor to people on death row and to families of murder victims. Her book Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1993. 

H
uman rights are inalienable, they cannot be alienated or prized away from people – they are not given by governments to people for good behaviour and can’t be taken away from them for bad behaviour
  

What sparked your interest in human rights?
In the early 1980s I lived with poor African Americans. It was another America. I saw the suffering and injustice, and got an invitation [from an inmate] to visit death row. His name was Patrick Sonnier. So I wrote to him. He wrote back. I visited him. Two and a half years later I’m telling him to look at my face when they kill him in the electric chair. It just took my life and turned it inside out. I had been a witness to state killing so I had to tell the story. I also became involved with the victim’s family and saw how the death penalty had nothing to do with their healing.  

What do you think are the main challenges in the struggle against human rights abuses?
That most people don’t think the death penalty is a human rights abuse. They think of it as a just punishment or necessary for the protection of society. So you have to take people with you – stand with them in their outrage [over the crime] but take them into the process of what happens [with executions], including what happens to the guards who have to do the killing.

If you could change one thing, what would it be?
Abolish the death penalty. By abolishing it we would also abolish a lot of the racism that is involved, the assault on poor people and [the idea that] we can solve social problems by using violence. 
 

What does Amnesty International mean to you?
I learnt from Amnesty International that human rights are inalienable, they cannot be alienated or prized away from people – they are not given by governments to people for good behaviour and can’t be taken away from them for bad behaviour. Amnesty International became my teacher – far quicker than my own Catholic church which [at that point] had a compromised position on the death penalty. 

What is the single most important lesson that your activism has taught you?
Begin in very simple ways. Write a letter to someone. If we let that rose fully unfurl it will change our whole life because it is about standing up for the dignity of each person. It is not so much they who need to be changed. It is us. It will teach us we have one life – and it counts.