Abolish the death penalty
By I.A. Rehman
Thursday, 08 Oct, 2009
Pakistan’s keenness to retain the death penalty for more than two dozen is totally indefensible. It was contrary to a growing worldwide trend in favour of abolition of the capital punishment. –File Photo
The World Day against the Death Penalty will be observed across the globe on Oct 10. And this time Pakistan will not be in the dock as a keen upholder of capital punishment as no execution has been reported in Pakistan in 2009 (until Sept 30). In 2008 two developments regarding the application of the death penalty in Pakistan took place. The theme chosen for the Day against the Death Penalty by the World Coalition against the Death Penalty, the international alliance of civil society organisations that spearheads the campaign against capital punishment, was focused on Asia where more people had been executed than in the rest of the world.
The record of six Asian countries was highlighted. Three countries — India, South Korea and Taiwan — received credit for progress towards the abolition of the death penalty. Pakistan was listed amongst the other three countries — along with Japan and Vietnam — that were noted for excessive application of the capital punishment.
But 2008 was also the year when the Government of Pakistan announced its intention to abolish the death penalty. As a first step it wanted to commute the death sentence awarded to several thousand convicts. Since no evidence of any practical step was available it was assumed that the government’s humanitarian zeal had got dissipated. Either the authorities had retreated in the face of some noise made by the quasi-religious lobby or it was overly preoccupied with the problems of its survival.
Human rights activists and others who stood for an end to hangings were dismayed at discovering that executions continued after the government’s abolitionist plan was announced and that a Musharraf-period ordinance prescribing death penalty for cyber crimes had been reissued. One is now happy to learn that the government did not give up the idea of adopting a rational policy on the death penalty.
The imposition of a de facto moratorium on executions is undoubtedly a great step forward and the government will receive acclaim throughout the world. It is, however, necessary to offer the people at home, especially the pro-execution lobby, the justification for this radical shift in policy.
The fact is that Pakistan’s keenness to retain the death penalty for more than two dozen offences, as against only two (murder and treason) at the time of independence, had become totally indefensible. For one thing, it was contrary to a growing worldwide trend in favour of abolition of the capital punishment.
A 2007 survey showed that more than two-thirds of the countries in the world had abolished the death penalty in law or in practice. Of these countries, 93 had abolished the capital punishment for all crimes; nine countries had done so for all crimes except for those committed in times of war; and 35 countries were classified as de facto abolitionists as no execution had been carried out for at least 10 years (although the death penalty was still prescribed in law.)
The movement for abolition of the death penalty continues to gain new adherents year after year. This year Burundi, Togo and the US state of New Mexico have abolished the death penalty. Morocco and Kenya have reduced the number of offences that carry the death penalty.
For another thing, the five principal arguments advanced in the international discourse to repudiate the death penalty are more aptly applicable to Pakistan and similarly placed countries than others. These arguments are:
- The death penalty is irrevocable. Miscarriage of justice is possible even in the most judicially advanced countries. The glaring deficiencies in Pakistan’s justice system are well-known. Nothing can be done if a person is found to be innocent after he has been hanged.
- The death penalty is unfair because it is more likely to be applied to the poor and underprivileged than to the affluent and privileged. In Pakistan the Qisas and Diyat law ensures that only poor and weak persons are sent to the gallows.
- The death penalty is a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. Anyone condemned to death is not considered entitled to treatment as a human being. In Pakistan thousands have to rot in death cells for years on end. It is truly said of them that they die every day.
- The death penalty does not act as a deterrent. Nobody has proved that the incidence of any offences has declined after the prescription of the death penalty for them.
- The death penalty is violative of the second optional protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN General Assembly resolutions calling for a moratorium on executions.
However, prudence demands that the objections and misgivings of those who oppose the abolition of the death penalty should be properly addressed. These elements fall into two categories. The first category comprises the people who have been brutalised under the Ziaul Haq gospel of retributive justice and public hangings or by their experience of executions by pseudo-religious militants. Such people can be cured of their aberrations through a sustained education and awareness campaign.
Somewhat more difficult will be the task of dealing with those who defend the death penalty as a punishment enjoined by Islam. In order to avoid provoking these elements into acting rashly the government may formally announce a moratorium on executions and simultaneously withdraw the death penalty for crimes that are not punishable with death in the Islamic code. The Council of Islamic Ideology has already explained that the Islamic law does not prescribe death as a punishment for more than a couple of offences. The laws relating to these offences should be amended after a fair debate and consensus.
The Pakistani authorities should find the theme for this year’s Day against the Death Penalty — Teaching Abolition — useful in mobilising public support for its abolitionist policy. The idea is to instruct students aged 14 to 18 years in the need to abolish the death penalty. Pakistani authorities can add lessons designed to promote tolerance to the courses suggested for the abolitionist campaign.
Some movement in the direction indicated here must not be delayed as an informal suspension of the death penalty does not relieve the wretched population in the death cells of their anxieties and agony caused by the possibility of execution.
Source : Dawn.com
- Abolish Death Penalty India
- The idea behind this blog is to collect information on the death penalty in India and make it accessible. We are trying our best to put the latest information on the people who are currently on death row, the status of their cases, their mercy petitions and also the information on any death sentence across the country. Please feel free to write us and give us your suggestions and comments and also any information you have come across regarding the death penalty in India. Our email id is firstname.lastname@example.org The blog is currently managed by Grace Pelly, Lara Jesani, Nitu Sanadhya, Rebecca Gonsalvez, Reena Mary George and Vijay Hiremath. Kindly mark copies of the emails to: email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org