What is the appropriate punishment for inexplicable crimes? Is the death penalty a definite deterrent or a wasted opportunity?
The first established death penalty laws date as far back as the 18th Century BC in the Code of King Hammurabi of Babylon. Death sentences were carried out by such means as crucifixion, beating to death, drowning, burning alive and impalement. In the 10th Century AD, hanging became the most common method of execution with as many as 72,000 people executed during the reign of Henry the 8th in the 16th Century.
Currently, 56 countries still use the death penalty, while 106 countries have completed abolished the penalty, 8 have abolished it for ordinary crimes, and 28 are abolitionist in practice. There have been many calls for the end of capital punishment, including non-binding resolutions by the United Nations General Assembly over the past decade. However, over 60% of the world’s population live in countries where the death penalty is retained, such as China, India and the United States.
The death penalty is a failure. Its goals are limited, its impact is limited, and it neglects the value of life. The punishment is inhumane and irreversible.
Firstly, the death penalty breaches the right to live and the right to live free from torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment which are protected rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We must value life and understand that the death penalty is a symptom of a culture of violence, not a solution to it.
Many supporters of the death penalty argue that it is morally justified when applied in murder. This is due to the belief that the punishment must be painful in proportion to the crime. Personally, this is a revenge approach which fails to consider the capacity for rehabilitation.
These comments draw me to the lives of Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan. These two men were sentenced to the death penalty in Bali for their role in a drug-smuggling group and executed in 2015. Both men completed extensive rehabilitation and education and utilised this knowledge to grow from their failure and achieve new things in their life. Andrew Chan was ordinated as Christian minister, while Myuran Sukumaran turned to Art. The death penalty did not need to be used in this scenario. Both men had fully rehabilitated and could have gone on to live successful lives.
The death penalty does not deter crime, Countries who execute commonly cite the death penalty as a form of deterrence. However, there has been no evidence of the death penalty reducing crime than life imprisonment. Moreover, the death penalty is discriminatory towards those with a less advantaged socio-economic background. This includes having limited access to legal representation, which impedes the capacity for a fair trial.
The death penalty achieves none of its limited and short-sighted goals. I believe that punishment should be given to offenders, but that should not extend further than a life sentence with no opportunity for parole.
“Returning violence for violence multiples violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars” – Martin Luther King.
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