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Old 07-10-2004, 06:35 AM
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Default Why Death Penalty Should Be Abolished?

In the average public mind, the death penalty is viewed as the most
appropriate penalty for a person convicted of murder. Many people think
that justice is only done when the offender is killed.

A closer look at the death penalty however dismisses this assumption. But
does the average person understand that the death penalty carried out in
the name of a nation's entire population involves everyone?

The death penalty is not only a constitutional matter but also a moral and
social one. Citizens should therefore be aware of what the penalty is, how
it is used, how it affects them and how it violates fundamental human

An execution, like physical forms of torture, involves a deliberate
assault on a prisoner. Thus it is a violation of human rights enshrined in
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In the past decades many thousands of prisoners have been executed in
scores of countries around the world. Men, women and even children have
been hanged, electrocuted, gassed, poisoned, beheaded or shoot to death in
fulfilment of judicial orders. Many of the executed were convicted of
brutal crimes. Others died for non-violent offences including "economic
corruption" and adultery. Many met their deaths for purely political
reasons or after blatantly unfair trials.

Nobody knows the exact number of innocent victims of execution. Cruel,
arbitrary and irrevocable, the death penalty is imposed disproportionately
on the poor and powerless. It is high time the death penalty is abolished
worldwide. Everywhere experience shows that executions brutalise those
involved in the process. Nowhere has it been shown that the death penalty
has any power to reduce crime or political violence. In many different
countries it is used disproportionately against the poor or against racial
or ethnic minorities. It is often used as a tool of political repression.

The death penalty is the premeditated and cold-blooded killing of a human
being by the state. Indeed, it makes the state the killer. The state can
exercise no greater power over a person than that of deliberately
depriving him /her of life. At the heart of the case of the abolition,
therefore is the question of whether the state has the right to do so.

When the nations of the world came together 5 decades ago and formed the
United Nations, few reminders were needed of what could happen when the
state believed that there was no limit to what it could do to a human
being. The staggering extent of the state brutality and terror during the
Second World War and the consequences for people throughout the world were
still unfolding in December 1948, when the United Nations adopted the
Universal Declaration Of Human Rights (UDHR).

The UDHR is a pledge among nations to promote the fundamental rights as
the foundation of freedom, justice and peace. The rights it proclaims are
inherent in every human being. They are not privileges that may be granted
or withdrawn by governments for good or bad behaviour respectively.
Fundamental human rights limit what the state may or may not do to a man,
woman or child. The death penalty is an inseparable component of human
rights violation.

The UDHR recognises each person's right to life and categorically states
further: "No one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or
degrading treatment or punishment".

Admittedly, self-defence may be held to justify in some cases the taking
of life by state officials, for example when a country is locked in
warfare (international or civil), or when law enforcement officials must
act to save their own lives or those of others. Even in those situations,
the use of lethal force is surrounded by internationally accepted legal
safeguards to inhibit abuse.

The death penalty however is not an act of self-defence against an
immediate threat to life. It is a premeditated killing of a prisoner who
could be dealt with by equally less harsh means. The cruelty of the death
penalty is evident like torture and execution constitutes an extreme
physical and mental assault on a person already rendered helpless by
government authorities.

If hanging a woman by the arms until she experiences excruciating pain is
rightly condemned as torture, how does one describe hanging her by the
neck until she is dead? If administering 100 volts of electricity to the
most sensitive parts of a man's body invokes disgust, what is the
appropriate reaction to the administering of 2 000 volts to his body in
order to kill him?

It is undisputed that the physical pain caused by the action of killing a
human being cannot be quantified, nor can the psychological suffering
caused by foreknowledge of death at the hands of the state - whether the
death sentence is carried out six minutes after trial or six weeks after
mass trial.

The methods of execution, like physical forms of torture, involve a
deliberate assault on a prisoner. There are seven principal methods of
execution - hanging, shooting, electrocution, lethal injection, gassing,
beheading and stoning.

To just highlight one method, execution by stoning is usually carried out
after the prisoner has been buried to the neck or otherwise restrained.
Death may be caused by damage to the brain, asphyxiation or a combination
of injuries. This type of execution is rampant in Islamic states and is
the highest manifestation of barbarism.

By way of background the death penalty which is upheld by Zimbabwe has a
long and sad history. Our most celebrated hero and heroine Sekuru Kaguvi
and Ambuya Nehanda, respectively, of the first Chimurenga were the first
casualties in 1890 and despite the foregoing, which reminds us of the
bitter past, Zimbabwe still upholds capital punishment; Section 12 of the
Zimbabwean constitution stipulates that "it shall be lawful for a person
to be killed following a death sentence imposed on him/her by Court".

Zimbabwe's retention of the death penalty is a sad reflection which casts
a dark shadow on its human rights record.

The death penalty should be abolished for a host of reasons. It is
undesirable because it robs society - with proper rehabilitation the
convicted person might become a useful resource and a tool in the
development of society.

It is inhuman and is fraught with retribution which serves no useful
purpose. An execution cannot restore life or lessen the loss to the
victim's families.

Again the death penalty is morally abominable because it has made men
assume the role of the ultimate decider of life and death, which is the
preserve of God alone. From the Bible we are reminded that God had harsh
words for Cain for killing his brother Abel Genesis 4 vs. 9-15

While acknowledging the general feeling of society is that punishment
should be given relative to the crime. capital punishment is wrong because
2 wrongs don't make a right. Murdering the murderer is another form of

Apart from the foregoing, the death penalty is irrevocable and can be
inflicted on an innocent person. Despite the most stringent judicial
standards, human error cannot be ruled out, resulting in innocent people
being executed.

Considerable research in the US has provided no evidence that the death
penalty deters crime more effectively than other punishments. These
findings are consistent with what is known of the relationship between
crime rates and the presence or absence of the death penalty in other
countries. In some US states the homicide rate has actually increased
after the resumption of execution and despite public execution in
countries like China and Islamic states, crime leading to the death
penalty has not declined.

It is undisputed that the death penalty has been used in some instances to
suppress political dissent and to consolidate power, especially after
coups and counter-coups. Members of the opposition, political groups have
been eliminated as a matter of political expediency.

The case of the former Pakistan Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto becomes
a vivid reminder. Bhutto, overthrown in a military coup by Gen Ziaul Hag
in 1977 and charged with complicity in the murder of a political opponent
in 1974, was convicted and sentenced to death in 1978. His appeal to the
Supreme Court was rejected in February 1979 by a vote of 4 to 3. Bhutto
was executed in April 1979. Gen Zia had to ensure that Bhutto had to be
eliminated as a political foe.

Unlike the arguments of deterrence and incapacitation, the retribution
argument maintains that certain offenders must be killed, not to prevent
crime, but because of the demands of justice. Execution is deemed to be a
repayment for an evil deed; by killing offenders society shows its
condemnation of the latter's crime.

The persuasiveness of the argument that certain offenders deserve to die
is rooted in the deep aversion felt by law-abiding citizens to terrible
crimes. Close examination of how the death penalty actually works shows
that the retribution argument is fundamentally flawed.

Finally, the death penalty denies the right to life. It is a cruel and
inhuman punishment, brutalising all who are involved in the process.
Indeed the death penalty brutalises and dehumanises the convicted person,
the executioners and society at large. It serves no penal purpose and
denies the widely accepted principle of rehabilitation of offenders.

(source: Opinion, John Dzvinamurungu is the vice-chairman of Amnesty
International Zimbabwe, Financial Gazette)
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