The 21st century has witnessed immense social evolution that is rapidly shaping and changing the mindsets of nations and people across the globe. It is such an evolution that has led to the formation of a unified consensus around the world that certain practices that degrade the element of humanity should not be tolerated in the modern day society. Practices such as human sacrifices, physical torture, slavery and capital punishments are among the largely criticized and condemned practices in many nations today. Universally, many people share the view that the death penalty as a form of punishment for crimes committed is an outdated practice. In addition, with each passing year, the fight against the death penalty becomes a more compelling call, attracting even larger numbers of people campaigning for its abolishment.
Notably, over the years, there has been no tangible evidence to support any correlation between the death penalty and a reduction in the crime rates. Lack of adequate support for the use of the death penalty grounds the need to abolish the practice. In most cases, this form of capital punishment is used to brutalize persons involved in the process. Further, when the death capital is used inappropriately, it is a political recession tool against the poor or ethnic and racial minorities. Although several nations and various institutions have shown solidarity in supporting the abolishment of the death penalty, the pace is still not fast enough, and many more lives are lost every day across the world.
The following paper provides the literature review on the abolishment of the death capital and the shocking statistics of executions that took place in the past year. In addition, the paper also highlights the main reasons that are driving large masses of people to support the abolishment of capital punishment. It will also trace the numerous emerging trends and strategies in the quest to completely abolish the death penalty.
The death penalty, also referred to as capital punishment, is the act of putting a convicted person to death for the crime committed. Capital punishment primarily means that a convicted individual is sentenced to death. There are certain types of offences that an individual has to commit in order to receive the death penalty. These specific types of crimes commonly referred to as capital offenses or capital crimes are perceived by the justice system as those that are extreme and can only be punished by death. Examples of capital offenses include acts of treason, murder, kidnapping, rape, perjury and terrorism. The nature of capital crimes may vary across the globe depending on the degree of a crime committed as perceived by court of justice.
There are numerous methods that have been used over the years to execute convicted persons. The traditionally used methods of execution included a firing squad or simply shooting the targeted individual, hanging, gas chamber and stoning, which was common in Islamic nations. Today, many executions take the forms of electric chair or the use of a lethal injection.
The death penalty is an issue that has sparked a lot of controversies. There have been endless outbursts from human rights groups and the general public over the morality of capital punishment in the justice system. Governments have been under intense pressure to abolish the death capital, with many people terming it as murder. Fortunately, calls for the abolition of the practice have not been futile, with many nations abolishing death punishment. Schabas says that there are virtually no moral grounds to kill another person even if it is the only form of punishment. Murder in every sense carries with it a brutal conviction causing untold mystery and such is the cause of the disparagement of the practice. Death punishment is simply a case of murder, committed by the state in a deliberate and cruel manner. Many people hold the conviction that the modern day society has no room for such dignifying and brutal practices since there are many other forms of punishments considered more effective in the provision of justice.
Ironically, governments use the’ eye for an eye’ treatment when it comes to dealing with capital punishment. Although it has not been definitively proven, governments use violence to punish violence, thus the same governments condone violence. In many ways, this may send the wrong message to the public. The calls for the abolition of the death penalty emphasize that there is no clear proof to show that this form of punishment deters the occurrence of future crimes in the society. It does not mean that the society is safer when death penalties take, hence, the efforts applied to carrying out capital punishment would have been used to enforce security measures and ensure that communities are safer.
According to Amnesty International, the death penalty is an absurd practice that only fosters a cycle of endless violence in the society by asserting to the public that killing is also an acceptable solution to solving the issue. The organization calls for the universal abolition of the practice citing that two wrongs do not exactly make a right. Killing a person who has committed an equivalent crime such as murder basically does not send the correct message that killing is wrong. It only shows a tolerance to murder by those in power especially since such executions occur in a premeditated manner. Additionally, since every man-made system has its flaws, capital punishment is no exception. The innocent persons wrongly accused and executed do not have a second chance to redeem themselves since the process is virtually irreversible.
Further research into the abolition of this punishment indicates that according to the psychology of criminal tendencies, individuals do not violate laws and commit crimes if they are certain that they will be arrested and punished. Often such criminals have a get-away-plan or the mere hope that they will not be caught. In theory, what counts is the length of the elapsed time between the commission of a crime and the administration of a punishment. Therefore, theoretically speaking, the quicker the punishment is administered, the greater its impact on achieving a deterrent effect. In turn, the degree of the deterrent effect achieved is a function of the severity of the punishment. However, further researches into the same allowed numerous scholars to prove that there is no direct consistency in the deterrent effect of a punishment and its related severity. Scholars hold that, in fact, after a while, an increase in the severity of the punishment can no longer achieve deterrent benefits. This is to say that the effectiveness of the punishment by death has lost its meaning and simply became a trail of murders committed.
From a philosophical point of view, the main aim of the criminal justice department is to deter the re-occurrence of crimes, enforce rehabilitation of criminals and incapacitate the overly-hardened criminals. The use of the death penalty causes confusion over the real purpose of the justice system. Philosophically speaking, an alternative form of punishment such as life imprisonment serves a more effective cause than the death penalty. Imprisonment for life, as a matter of fact, may be worse than death due to a higher degree of a deterrent. In this case, a murderer, for instance, is put in jail and every day he/she has to remember and pay for the crime committed; this is enough torture on its own. Unlike the death penalty, one can rehabilitate and be sorry for the crimes previously committed; a process that is only human.
Religious groups across the universe also add to the calls for the abolishment of the death penalty. It is primarily against the laws of nature and against religious beliefs to take another person’s life in a cold and premeditated manner. Religious groups especially the Church have been vocal in the abolition of the punishment. It argues that the human society has a role to condone murder; hence, as a society, it is our responsibility to handle any crime committed with utmost civilization that does not resort to killing a person.
Lack of adequate empirical research and documentation has further fuelled the confusion over why in some regions the death penalty is still considered as an effective form of punishment and justice. Some argue that while offenses such as murder of innocent victims are entirely irrational, why should rational responses be used to punish those who commit such crimes? Thus, the use of any rational method to punish such offenders has been branded as incentives and a failure to provide the victims with the justice they deserve. While, it would be insensitive to ignore the right to justice that is the right of the victims and their families, the death penalty does not achieve a lasting satisfaction of justice. Further research, hence, needs to be conducted so as to cut clear lines on the need to abolish the death penalty and at the same time achieve justice for the victims in question. Furthermore, any arguments presented today in support of the death penalty do not regard the attainment of criminal justice, but rather call for other preferences such as institutional revenge, emotional closure and monetary benefits.
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The Abolition Debate and Statistical Data
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims that the death penalty violates the fundamental right to life. It argues that the practice contravenes the global standards of the protection of the right to life that is acclaimed by every single individual in the universe. According to Amnesty International, the death penalty is a major setback in the race to achieve universal human rights. Thus, it opposes the use of capital punishment on all levels regardless of the nature of the crime committed, the characteristics of the criminal system or the method used in a given region to kill the offender. It rules out completely the use of the death punishment and does not provide any room for exceptional cases.
Statistical data collected in the last decade has shown great improvements in the campaigns for the abolition of the death penalty. The number of countries that have successfully eradicated the practice has been on the rise. Official reports indicate that there are worldwide achievements as a result of the abolition campaigns. Reports show that a total of 141 countries are abolitionist either in law or practice while 97 countries have abolished the use of the death penalty for all offenses. An additional number of 36 countries have managed to abolish the death penalty in practice while eight countries have so far only abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes.
Further, statistics according to Amnesty international indicate that in 2011, 21 countries carried out executions as compared to 31 countries which carried out such executions ten years ago. With the United States viewed as one of the worst in reinforcing the abolition campaigns, reports show that the nation has improved over time with many individual States abolishing or limiting the practice. A significant increase in the number of countries that have abolished the death penalty over the past decade is evidence that the abolition campaigns are gaining progress. Countries such as Mexico, Argentina, Albania, Armenia, Turkey, Greece, Philippines, Cook Islands, Bhutan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Latvia, Samoa, Togo, Rwanda, Gabon and Burundi have successfully passed laws aimed at abolishing the death penalty for all offences committed in their regions. Moreover, the tremendous decline in the number of executions has been reported recently. In Europe, a death penalty-free-zone has been almost achieved with the exception of Belarus, while in Africa only six countries still carry out the death penalty as per the 2006 statistical reports.
Despite the enormous success in the abolition of the death penalty, several countries are yet to legally abolish the practice or impose a moratorium on the same. However, these countries have taken progressive steps to narrow the scope of the death penalty. For example, Kazakhstan has strived to abolish the death penalty imposed on ordinary offenses. China has abolished the use of the death penalty for certain economic crimes. The country has further reintroduced a mandatory review of all death capital cases by the Supreme People’s Court before the execution takes place. Other countries that have not legally abolished the practice, however they strived to end it by either not carrying out the executions or declaring a official moratorium. Sierra Leona and Nigeria are good examples of countries that have declared an official moratorium on the death penalty.
The death penalty has sparked many controversies; however, nations are unanimously warming up to the fact that indeed it is time to abolish the practice completely. Several stringent measures have been adopted to ensure that the abolition of the death penalty is a universal cause. The European Union (EU) has established the abolition of capital punishment as a precondition for any nation aiming to enter the union. As a result, many eastern European nations have halted the practice in order to join the union (Smith, 2006). Various states in America have also moved away from the death penalty practice due to the pressure of lobby groups and abolitionists who emphasize the legal, political and economic implications of the practice on the nation at large. The abolition campaigns have gained worldwide popularity, and the problem is no longer viewed as an internal matter but rather as an international concern. Therefore, many nations have been forced to revoke the practice due to the international pressure.
Social evolution has seen the increased number of campaigns against the death penalty in the last decade. Internationally, the death penalty started to concern top policy makers, and more nations are reviewing their justice systems with the aim of abolishing the practice. In 1997, the UN Commission on Human Rights held a meeting in Geneva and concluded that punishment by death for a crime committed was against the international human rights provision. In addition, the meeting outlined several clauses deemed to protect persons suffering from mental illness, juveniles and expectant mothers from such an execution.
The abolishment of the death penalty has been also greatly supported by the UN Special Rapporteur on the abolition of capital punishment. The use of treaties and membership preconditions are effectively invoking many nations to stop practicing the death penalty. Over the years various human rights organizations became stronger, thus imposing a great amount of pressure on governments to abolish the practice. Recently, the Universal Declaration enforced that each person regardless of race, ethnicity, culture or political inclinations has the right to life. It categorically states “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’’.
In addition, increased scientific and forensic applications have revealed that there are numerous executions of innocent individuals. A lot of innocent persons who have been lucky enough to avoid the death penalty significantly caused changing tides in the death penalty debate. The system has been increasingly faulted and, as a matter of fact, any execution of an innocent person today will inevitably stir unimaginable protests globally.
The following are several reasons why today there are many campaigns to abolish the death penalty:
- The death penalty contravenes the fundamental human right to life and dignity
- The execution of innocent persons is possible since the system is heavily flawed
- The death penalty has no effective deterrence on crime
- The death penalty practices are carried out at a staggering cost which is a burden to the taxpayers
- There are alternative and effective methods of punishment for offenses committed
- There are arbitrary applications of the death penalty against race, ethnic and poor minorities which are often politically oppressed using the practice
- The death penalty goes against almost every religion of the world; hence it can be termed as an immoral practice.
The death penalty is one of the oldest forms of punishment for crimes committed. It has been widely used across many nations. Justice systems have extensively used capital punishment for the crimes that are considered extreme in their nature. Electric chairs and lethal injections are the common forms of the death penalty. However, times are changing and so are the perceptions of many people worldwide. One of the most outstanding aspects of the 21st century is the calls to safeguard and uphold the value of human life. Governments, activists, non-governmental organizations and the general public have emphasized the need to abolish the death penalty.
The death penalty is a cruel and irrational punishment that immensely degrades the value of human life and the fundamental right to life that every individual should enjoy. If statistics are anything to go by, the death penalty has caused a large number of deaths over the past decades. In an outright manner, the death penalty is murder, and it sends the wrong message in terms of morality of a society. Abolishment of the practice is an indication of civilization in using alternative methods to punish criminal offences. Moreover, the death penalty tarnishes the criminal justice systems. The use of violence to avenge violence is an irony that raises a lot of questions. Today, the trends are changing, and many countries are abolishing capital punishment. Considerable measures are universally set up to ensure that nations adhere to the elimination of the practice completely. There is also an ample room for change in countries that are yet to halt the death penalty. Every life should be valued and death penalty has no actual long-term benefits especially in cases where it is a common tool of oppression. Eradication of the death penalty leads to openness in terms of alternative and effective solutions that can be adopted by nations as a punishment for crimes committed in a decent manner, upholding the value of life.