Why does the death penalty not protect you?
Give a dog a bad name and hang him! The death penalty is not used to protect society from repeat offender child-molesting monsters. Death row is mainly occupied by people whose lives were considered to be worthless in the eyes of their judges because of poverty, discrimination or political machinations.
Opposing the death penalty means saying no to State murders, no to torture. It means retaining our humanity and our dignity in the face of barbarity!
20,000 people are rotting on death row and more than 1,600 were executed in 20151. These figures do not include death sentences in North Korea or China, about which we do not have sufficient information. However, it is considered that 5,000 people are executed every year just in the People’s Republic of China.
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1. The death penalty violates the right to life
consecrated by Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
2. The death penalty is cruel, inhuman and degrading
A punishment which forbids any hope is, in reality, a torture. Prisoners sentenced to death live in constant fear of being killed and this perpetual terror often lasts 20 or 30 years. For all those years they are often held in isolation, live in extreme deprivation and are tortured in a number of countries.
In 2016 Tommy Arthur, sentenced to death in Alabama, saw his execution date pushed back at the last minute for the seventh time in 15 years. He has therefore experienced his last night seven times, has said goodbye to his family seven times and has experienced the terror of his imminent execution seven times.
3. The death penalty is not fair.
It is revenge which perpetuates the cycle of violence and suffering. Justice, on the contrary, aims to redress the situation.
On 15 April 2014 in Iran, Samareh Alineja moved the whole world by removing the rope from around the neck of her son’s killer. “The murderer was crying”, she said. “He was asking for forgiveness. I slapped him which calmed me down. I said “I punish you for the sadness you have given me”. Then she removed the rope from around the prisoner’s neck, thus indicating her forgiveness.
4. The death penalty is not dissuasive and does not make society safer (quite the opposite)
When a State which judges that life does not have a sacred value spreads this idea among its inhabitants, violence leads to more violence. Indeed, countries which use the death penalty have higher crime rates than those in abolitionist countries.
Texas executes more people than any other American state and yet its crime rate has increased by 400% since it reintroduced the death penalty on 2 July 1976. According to the Global Peace Index1, only two retentionist counties (Japan, 9th, and Singapore, 20th) are included in the 20 safest countries in the world. All the others have abolished the death penalty.
5. The death penalty kills innocent people
It is applied differently depending on the degree of police/local justice corruption, the hazards of the investigations and local challenges. Of the 156 prisoners sentenced to death and exonerated in the USA since 1976, 56% had been declared guilty on the basis of false testimony, 36% because of false eye witnesses, and in 46% of cases it was the behaviour of the investigators which was to blame. How many were not exonerated in time, in the USA and in the rest of the world?
Teng Xingshan was executed in China in 1989 for the murder and rape of a women who had gone missing. But this woman eventually reappeared in 1993. Too late for the life of Teng Xingshan.
6. The death penalty is a tool of political repression
Most countries which use the death penalty do no resist the temptation to make it a tool of political and/or religious repression. You don’t demonstrate, you don’t fight against a government policy when just giving your opinion could send you to the chair.
Ahmed Haou, who has spent 15 years on death row in Morocco, was sentenced for demonstrating against the regime of Hassan II and writing a slogan on a wall. Since independence, 54 people have been executed in Morocco, mainly for political reasons.
7. The death penalty is discriminatory
Across the world, the death penalty is particularly used against people belonging to a stigmatised minority (migrants, homosexuals, ethnic or religious groups, people with mental health issues, etc.)
Mahdi Rezaii, aged 17, was sentenced to death in July 2008 in Iran for homosexual acts. In 2016, 12 countries still sentenced homosexuals to death.
8. The death penalty targets the poor, the illiterate and those unable to defend themselves
The accused facing the death penalty who come from very poor areas with little education must confront two problems: the financial ability to defend themselves and the intellectual ability to understand what is at stake in their trial – as well as how the justice system works – and respond to it with appropriate behaviour and defence.
In the USA, Roger McGowenn witnessed his court-appointed lawyer, a notorious alcoholic, falling asleep several times during his trial. Roger McGowenn was sentenced to death for not having the means to pay for a lawyer.
9. There is no humane way to kill a person
The United States abandoned the electric chair for lethal injections in the search for a “scientifically based” execution method which was less painful and “cleaner”. And yet, cases of mistakes and long-lasting agony are legion.
In 2009, the American justice system carried out the execution of Romell Broom. After 18 attempts to insert the catheter and two hours of appalling torture, crying and screams, the execution was halted. In 2016, the court considered that Romell Broom could now be executed “for a second time”.
10. The death penalty is exploited to make people scapegoats
and often has no connection to the performance of justice
In 2015, Jordan hanged two Iraqi Islamists (including a women with a mental health illness) sentenced to death for the murderous attacks in Amman in 2005. These executions were passed as revenge for the execution of a Jordanian pilot by Daesh.
11. The death penalty is used as a tool of repression between countries
Foreign prisoners sentenced to death are the subject of negotiations and are used for political reasons.
Nimr Baqr al-Nimr, a non-violent Shiite Saudi dissident, was executed on 2 January 2016 within the framework of the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Ian. His nephew, Ali Al-Nimr, 17 at the time of the events, was also arrested for participating in demonstrations and is stilling awaiting execution on death row.
12. The death penalty is not only used for violent crime
And sometimes, what is considered a crime in some countries is not even an offence in others. Sodomy, adultery, blasphemy and apostasy are recognised as reasons justifying capital punishment in a number of countries.
The Iranian Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani had been sentenced to death by flogging for adultery in 2006. The scale of international support finally resulted in her release in 2014. Asia Bibi, a Christian Pakistani sentenced to death for wondering out loud if God thought that Christians sullied the water of Muslims by drinking from the same source, is still in prison awaiting execution.
13. In a large majority of cases, the death penalty is used within the framework of the violent struggle against drug trafficking
(70% of executions across the world). And yet, this method has proved its own inefficiency as the UN eventually admitted after years of an aggressive War on Drugs. More often than not, all these executions involve minimal quantities of drugs.
Chijioke Stephen Obioah, a 38 year-old Nigerian, was executed in 2016 by the Singapore justice system for the possession of 2.6 kilos of cannabis. The banks of Singapore, on the other hand, known for being the nerve centre of the world’s dirty drugs money, do not deplore any executions.
14. The death penalty creates new victims
Without relieving the victims of the first crime, death sentences extend suffering and trauma to the families of the prisoners sentenced to death.
“I had to explain to my grandchildren that their mother had been sentenced to death. The oldest is 14. He is finding it difficult at school because his classmates make fun of him. His grades are not as good, he is destroyed, he is suffering.” Celia Veloso, mother of Marie-Jane Veloso, sentenced to death in Indonesia
15. The death penalty is a negation of an individual’s ability to be rehabilitated
Criminals who suffer from mental health issues must be looked after in appropriate places. For others, a useful life in society is still possible.
“I decided that I would not be a useless person in this world. And to become someone useful for my country, I had to study. So I participated in the prison school and then worked for a correspondence law degree with the University of London. Now I would like to get my Masters degree and work for an organisation which looks after the children of prisoners.” Suzan Kigula, formerly sentenced to death in Uganda
16. The death penalty does not have a place in the scale of punishments
It is symptomatic that the International Criminal Court and the International Criminal Tribunal do not include the death penalty for the most serious crimes (war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity). The death penalty quickly becomes absurd in these cases.
“If we had to execute all the mass killers responsible for the genocide of my people, there would be a new genocide to execute the more than 600,000 people responsible for or who took part in the Tutsi genocide. That is why the choice of abolition of the death penalty won the day.” Louise Mushikiwabo, Rwanda Minister of Foreign Affairs
17. Numerous senior religious representatives have spoken out against capital punishment.
“There is no valid punishment without hope.” Pope Francis
“You must sentence them to make them understand that they have done something wrong but also to show them that they are still part of society and that they can change.” Dalai Lama
“Do your best to avoid compulsory punishments. If you can find a way out for the accused, do it. It is better for the sovereign to get it wrong by granting pardon than to get it wrong by applying a punishment.” Al-Tirmidhi
18. Abolition is a universal idea
the prerogative of no civilisation over another, unrelated to any cultural relativity
China abolished the death penalty in 747 under the Tang dynasty. In Japan, Emperor Shōmu abolished it in 724. In Africa, the various colonial powers often imported the death penalty to the continent (from the Bantu areas to the Berber countries in the north) which had previously practiced banishment. In the modern era, countries in Latin America were the first to abolish the death penalty in the wake of Venezuela in 1863. Finally, the states of Michigan (1846) and Wisconsin (1853) in the United States abolished it long before the countries of Europe.
19. The death penalty does not make sense
Prisoners sentenced to death are sometimes executed after more than 40 years on death row.
“The man who is going to be put to death is no longer the one who committed the murder. He has become an old man who has shown what I think to be real remorse about his crime.” A police officer from Austin, talking about David Powel, sentenced at the age of 27 for the murder of a police officer and executed 32 years later.
20. The death penalty is not popular.
The argument of public opinion is particularly used in countries which, in fact, pay very little attention to it, such as Belarus and China. And it is wrong: rather, public opinion is inclined to follow the decisions of its government, whatever they are.
The latest research in the USA, Morocco, Belarus and Japan shows that people are entirely disposed to accepting abolition of the death penalty in their respective countries.
21. The death penalty does not indicate the democratic level of a country
because it is an instrument mainly used by dictators to terrorise their people. Abolition of the death penalty is therefore a step towards the democratisation of a country.
Of the 50 most democratic countries in the world, only five practice capital punishment. Conversely, seven of the 10 least democratic countries practice the death penalty1 (NB: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea and Vietnam are not included in this list).
22. The death penalty is increasingly rare.
The universal trend is abolition
Of the 198 members of the UN, only 55 still apply the death penalty. Two-thirds of the planet’s countries are therefore abolitionist in law or in practice. In the United States, the death penalty is only applied in 2% of counties1. Even in Texas, only four of the 254 counties are responsible for more than half the state’s executions.