Sages of the New Covenant
Public support for the death penalty does not necessarily mean that taking away the life of a human being by the state is right. There are undisputed historical precedences where gross human rights violations had had the support of a majority of the people, but which were condemned vigorously later on. It is the job of leading figures and politicians to underline the incompatibility of capital punishment with human rights and human dignity.
It needs to be pointed out that public support for the death penalty is inextricably linked to the desire of the people to be free from crime. However, there exist more effective ways to prevent crime.
While abolition of Death Sentence in Spain in 1995, they said: "the death penalty has no place in the general penal system of advanced, civilized societies ... what more degrading or afflictive punishment can be imagined than to deprive a person of his life?"
"To my mind, it is ultimately a question of respect for life and human approach to those who commit grievous hurts to others. Death sentence is no remedy for such crimes. A more humane and constructive remedy is to remove the culprit concerned from the normal milieu and treat him as a mental case. I am sure a large portion of the murderers could be weaned away from their path and their mental condition be sufficiently improved to become useful citizens. In a minority of cases, this may not be possible. They may be kept in prison houses till they die a natural death. This may cast a heavier economic burden on society than hanging. But I have no doubt that a humane treatment even of a murderer will enhance one's dignity and make more human".
- Jayaprkash Narayanan (referred by Justice Bhagwati in Bachan Singh dissenting judgment [para 22])
An average of three countries abolishes the death penalty every year. Here are twelve reasons for the total abolition of this degrading and inhuman punishment:
The Indian Constitution, under Article 21, gives its citizens the right to life. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) recognizes each person’s right to life. Article 4 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples´ Rights (ACHPR) states that "human beings are inviolable. Every human being shall be entitled to respect for his life and the physical and moral integrity of his person." This view is reinforced by the existence of international and regional treaties providing for the abolition of the death penalty, notably the second optional protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1989.
"To me, life is sacred and I don't believe I have a right to terminate someone else's life." - Richard Viguerie
The death penalty is an expression of the absolute power of the state; abolition of that penalty is a much- needed limit on government power.
What makes the state so pure that it has the right to take life? Look at the record of governments throughout history—so often operating with deception, cruelty and greed, so often becoming masters of the citizens they are supposed to serve. Too often, in killing and violence, the state compels people to act against their consciences.
And there is the point that government should not give bad example—especially not to children. Earl Charles, a veteran of several years on death row for crimes he did not commit, tried to explain this last year: "Well, it is difficult for me to sit down and talk to my son about 'thou shalt not kill,' when the state itself...is saying, 'Well, yes, we can kill, under certain circumstances.' “With great understatement, Mr. Charles added, "That is difficult. I mean, that is confusing to him."
Governments should not think that they have a right to play God, and should encourage respect for life and keep way themselves from premeditated killing.
The UDHR categorically states that "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."All forms of execution are inhuman. No government can guarantee a dignified and painless death to condemned prisoners, who also suffer psychological pain in the period between their sentence and execution.
The death penalty is incompatible with human rights and human dignity. The death penalty violates the right to life which happens to be the most basic of all human rights. It also violates the right not to be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. Furthermore, the death penalty undermines human dignity which is inherent to every human being.
The death penalty does not deter crime effectively.
The death penalty lacks the deterrent effect which is commonly referred to by its advocates. As recently stated by the General Assembly of the United Nations, “there is no conclusive evidence of the deterrent value of the death penalty” (UNGA Resolution 65/206). It is noteworthy that in many retentionist states, the effectiveness of the death penalty in order to prevent crime is being seriously questioned by a continuously increasing number of law enforcement professionals.
No scientific study has proved that the death penalty has a more dissuasive effect on crime than other punishments. The most recent investigation into the links of cause and effect between capital punishment and the murder rate, was conducted by the United Nations in 1988 and updated in 2002. It came to the following conclusion: "...it is not prudent to accept the hypothesis that capital punishment deters murder to a marginally greater extent than does the threat and application of the supposedly lesser punishment of life imprisonment."
By executing a person, the state commits a murder and shows the same readiness to use physical violence against its victim as the criminal. Moreover, studies have shown that the murder rate increases immediately after executions. Researchers have suggested that this increase is similar to that caused by other violent public events, such as massacres and assassinations.
The arbitrary application of the death penalty can never be ruled out. The death penalty is often used in a disproportional manner against the poor, minorities and members of racial, ethnic, political and religious groups. Throughout the world, the death penalty is disproportionately used against disadvantaged people. Some condemned prisoners from the most impoverished social classes would not have been sentenced to death if they were from wealthier sectors of society. In these cases, either the accused are less able to find their way through the maze of the judicial system (because of a lack of knowledge, confidence or financial means), or the system reflects the generally negative attitude of society and the powerful towards them. It has also been proved that certain criminals run a greater risk of being condemned to death if their victims come from higher social classes. Those who receive the death penalty still tend to be poor, poorly educated and represented by public defenders or court-appointed lawyers.
"It has been observed that the mere presence or absence of a particular judge gives the convict a better or worse chance of survival, statistically, regardless of the evidence." - Justices A. Pasayat, S.B. Sinha & K.G. Balakrishnan.
From the Harbans Singh’s case, it is clear the imposition or commutation of the death penalty depends less on the evidence than on the personal predilections of the judges. Md. Farooq (2010) and K.V. Chacko (2001) chronicle the “swinging fortunes” of an accused sentenced to death by one court, having it commuted by another, and being acquitted by a third. Such glaring inconsistencies in death-penalty judgments have caused disquiet among not only litigants, lawyers and academics but also judges themselves.
Initially two men were charged with the killing for which John Spenkelink was electrocuted in Florida in 1979. The second man turned state's evidence and was freed; he remarked: "I didn't intend for John to take the rap. It just worked out that way.
Arbitrariness becomes inevitable wherever the death sentence is awarded on subjective and vague criteria such as whether a case is the rarest of rare and whether it shocks one’s conscience. Ultimately, the decision is largely based on personal predilections and beliefs thinly disguised as legal doctrine.
Defenders of the death penalty consider that anyone sentenced to death is unable to mend their ways and could re-offend at any time if they are released. However, there are many examples of offenders who have been reintegrated and who have not re-offended. Sages of the New Covenant believes that the way to prevent re-offending is to review procedures for conditional release and the psychological monitoring of prisoners during detention, and under no circumstances to increase the number of executions. In addition, the death penalty removes any possibility for the condemned person to repent.
An execution cannot give the victim his or her life back nor ease the suffering felt by their family. Far from reducing the pain, the length of the trial and the appeal procedure often prolong the family’s suffering.
The risk of executing innocent people remains indissolubly linked to the use of the death penalty. Since 1973, 116 people condemned to death in the United States have been released after proof of their innocence has been established. Some of them have only just escaped execution, after having passed years on death row. These repeated judicial errors have been especially due to irregularities committed by prosecution or police officers, recourse to doubtful evidence, material information or confessions, or the incompetence of defense lawyers. Other prisoners have been sent to their deaths when serious doubts existed about their guilt.
This punishment affects all the family, friends and those sympathizing with the condemned person. The close relatives of an executed prisoner, who generally do not have anything to do with the crime, could feel, as a result of the death penalty, the same dreadful sense of loss as the victim’s parents felt at the death of their loved one.
Human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent. They are based on many traditions that can be found in all civilizations. All religions advocate clemency, compassion and forgiveness and it is on these values that Amnesty International bases its opposition to the death penalty.
Gary Gilmore and Steven Judy received reams of publicity as they neared their dates with the grim reaper. They had a chance to expound before a national audience their ideas about crime and punishment, God and country, and anything else that happened to cross their minds. It is hard to imagine two men less deserving of a wide audience. It can be argued, of course, that if executions become as widespread and frequent as proponents of the death penalty hope, the publicity for each murderer will decline. That may be so, but each may still be a media celebrity on a statewide basis.
While the death penalty undoubtedly deters some would-be murderers, there is evidence that it encourages others— especially the unstable who are attracted to media immortality like moths to a flame. If instead of facing heady weeks before television cameras, they faced a lifetime of obscurity in prison, the path of violence might seem less glamorous to them.
There is something indecent in the rituals that surround executions and the excitement—even the entertainment—that they provide to the public. There is the cat-and-mouse ritual of the appeals process, with prisoners sometimes led right up to the execution chamber and then given a stay of execution. There are the last visits from family, the last dinner, the last walk, and the last words. Television cameras, which have fought their way into courtrooms and nearly everywhere else, may someday push their way right up to the execution chamber and give us all, in living color, the very last moments.
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Sages of the New Covenant