Asking European foundations for money – a missed opportunity for Reprieve?

Reprieve has been working for years to promote the human rights of prisoners, especially those in Guantanamo and on death row in the USA, and its founder and Director, Clive Stafford Smith, is a well-known and respected lawyer. I joined a handful of others on Tuesday 1 June to hear him speak on his latest project to mobilise Europe to save their citizens who are currently waiting on death row in America. Reprieve has embarked on a three year project to identify Europeans due for execution, and has preliminarily highlighted 25 from just a few states. With limited access to lawyers and representation, Reprieve wants Europe, its governments and its people, to help those awaiting execution, and ideally to have them repatriated to their native country.

Clive Stafford Smith is certainly passionate and persuasive. Perhaps convincing a bunch of Europeans that the death penalty is archaic and barbaric is a somewhat simple task, but I definitely got the impression that he is a man who gets listened to. An impressive record in various Supreme Court battles is indeed testament to this. His call for European governments and institutions to support his cause struck chords with the national press present, and they agreed that EU backing is important, if not fundamental, if Reprieve is to succeed. In fact we all listened, and, as I imagine to be so often the case with Clive, we all agreed.

When asked about the role that foundations could play in this mission, the familiar call for funding was sent out. Clive stressed the tight budget he operates under and the need for grants and support from European foundations. Once again, we all listened, and we all agreed. However, I couldn’t help but wonder, is there not more that the foundation sector could offer? Undoubtedly, Reprieve is doing great work, and desperately needs the resources to be able to continue, but I think that Clive was missing an opportunity.

Relatively new to the foundation sector myself, I am impressed, if not surprised, with the power foundations wield. While of course their financial gravitas is important, I see foundations as being able to go beyond their bank accounts, and offer the chance to modify the social and cultural landscape, helping Reprieve to get their mission higher on the political agenda, creating a public will and opening up a European, if not a global, discourse on the issue. While Clive is a very impressive individual, with more than enough experience in this field, I wonder if there are other organisations out there, perhaps from the USA too, who can share their contacts and their networks with him, and enable a shared experience to push the debate and work on death row forward.

I suspect Clive sees himself somewhat as a lone crusader, but surely the point of Foundation Week is to connect citizens, European institutions and foundations together on areas of common concern. If Clive could engage with the foundation sector beyond a simple request for funds, and get them to listen and to agree, as no doubt he could, then perhaps he could truly mobilise Europe.

Kai Hopkins
General Manager, Alliance magazine

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