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Capital Punishment: Comparative Study

Shariful islam Selim

Punishment is a mode of controlling crimes & criminality and it treated as a basic objective of criminal justice. However, there are different form of punishment, as to example: capital punishment, deportation, corporal punishment ( i. e-flogging, branding, mutilation,  chaining etc.), imprisonment, fine etc.

Now question arises that what is capital punishment? The common answer is that the death sentence is most popularly known as capital punishment.

If we go back to the history of punishment then we will find that capital punishment was very available in the ancient times, even in the middle ages, it was very common kind of punishment. But we are now living in civilized world & the world is becoming civilized day by day. Now we are talking about human rights , fundamental rights of citizens & so on. So the outlook towards the inhuman mode of  capital punishment is also changing.

However, under the influence of the European Enlightenment, there began a movement to limit the scope of capital punishment in the latter part of the 18th century. Until then a very wide range of offenses, including even common theft, were punishable by death.

From the Encyclopedia Britannica Library we found the history of  movement against capital punishment.  In 1794 the U.S. state of Pennsylvania became the first jurisdiction to restrict the death penalty to first-degree murder, and in 1846 the state of Michigan abolished capital punishment for all murders and other common crimes.

In 1863 Venezuela became the first country to abolish capital punishment for all crimes, even for different serious offenses against the state, as to example: treason and military offenses in time of war. Then  Portugal was the first European country to abolish the death penalty, doing so in 1867; by the early 20th century some other countries, including The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Italy, had followed suit (though it was reintroduced in Italy under the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini).

By the mid-1960s some 25 countries had abolished the death penalty for murder, though only about half of them also had abolished it for offenses against the state or the military code. For example, Britain abolished capital punishment for murder in 1965, but treason, piracy, and military crimes remained capital offenses until 1998.

      During the last third of the 20th century, the number of abolitionist countries increased more than threefold. These countries, together with those that are “de facto” abolitionist—i.e., those in which capital punishment is legal but not exercised—now represent more than half the countries of the world. One reason for the significant increase in the number of abolitionist states was that the abolition movement was successful in making capital punishment an international human rights issue, whereas formerly it had been regarded as solely an internal matter for the countries concerned.

In 1971 the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution that, “in order fully to guarantee the right to life, provided for in…the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” called for restricting the number of offenses for which the death penalty could be imposed, with a view toward abolishing it altogether. This resolution was reaffirmed by the General Assembly in 1977. Optional protocols to the European Convention on Human Rights (1983) and to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1989) have been established, under which countries party to the convention and the covenant undertake not to carry out executions.

The Council of Europe (1994) and the EU (1998) established as a condition of membership in their organizations the requirement that prospective member countries suspend executions and commit themselves to abolition. This decision had a remarkable impact on the countries of central and eastern Europe, prompting several of them—e.g., the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia—to abolish capital punishment. In the 1990s many African countries—including Angola, Djibouti, Mozambique, and Namibia—abolished capital punishment, though most African countries retained it.

In South Africa, which formerly had one of the world`s highest execution rates, capital punishment was outlawed in 1995 by the Constitutional Court, which declared that it was incompatible with the prohibition against cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment and with “a human rights culture.”

Countries that had abolished the death penalty for all crimes numbered 84 at the start of 2005, following the addition of Greece and Senegal to the list at the end of 2004. The gradual movement toward universal abolition continued. The death penalty was abolished for all crimes in Mexico. Uzbekistan`s Pres. Islam Karimov signed a decree abolishing the death penalty from Jan. 1, 2008.

Indian leaders proposed amending the penal code by replacing the death penalty with life imprisonment without parole. Kenyan Justice Minister Kiraitu Murungi stated that his country was committed to abolishing the death penalty and that death row inmates in Kenya would have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. In Uganda 417 prisoners on death row sought a declaration that the punishment violates a constitutional prohibition of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

Steps were taken to begin the gradual abolition of the death penalty in Taiwan; the country`s criminal code was amended to prohibit the execution of those aged under 18 or over 80. The U.S. also stopped the use of the death penalty against individuals aged under 18 at the time they committed their offenses; the Supreme Court concluded by a slim majority that such executions were unconstitutionally cruel.

By contrast, in Nigeria the Committee on Judicial and Legal Reform recommended the use of the death penalty against juveniles who had committed “heinous offenses.” Four men who had confessed to murders were executed by Palestinian security forces, reversing a stay imposed by the late leader Yasir Arafat in 2001. Despite a 29-year moratorium on executions in Sri Lanka, the country`s Justice Ministry and attorney general recommended that the death sentences imposed on the men who in 1998 had gang-raped and murdered Rita John, a newlywed Indian woman, be carried out.

In the U.S. confessed serial killer Michael B. Ross was put to death in Connecticut`s first execution in 45 years.

We know that capital punishment violates the condemned person`s right to life and is fundamentally inhuman and degrading. A person’s right to life is also recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Our constitution also has recognized right to life as a fundamental right.

The death penalty is not a more effective deterrent than the alternative sanction of life or long-term imprisonment. Some people think that the poor and ethnic and religious minorities often do not have access to good legal assistance, that racial prejudice motivates predominantly white juries in capital cases to convict black and other nonwhite defendants in disproportionate numbers, and that, because errors are inevitable even in a well-run criminal justice system, some people will be executed for crimes they did not commit.

Finally, they argue that, because the appeals process for death sentences is protracted, those condemned to death are often cruelly forced to endure long periods of uncertainty about their fate. The most important point is  that  long-term imprisonment or life imprisonment can be provided to the offender instead of death sentence and they can be engaged in different productive works. Thus their maintenance cost will be easily affordable by the government.

So, this inhuman mode of punishment is totally unnecessary. In conclusion, we can strongly say, ’No more death sentence & stop this immediately.’ Because the state is doing itself a great crime by taking a  life away. For this   the capital punishment should be banned in our country also like Germany, Austria, Denmark and other abolishing countries.      
Writer: Student, Dept of Law, Rajshahi University

23 Jan 2013   05:46:02 AM   Wednesday
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