Columnists Features

Death penalty: Inhuman punishment?

GILLES HERVIO
TODAY is the European Day against the Death Penalty. 365 prisoners convicted to death by hanging are currently on death row in Zambia.
Zambia still belongs to the group of countries where the law provides for the death penalty for offences such as murder, treason and armed robbery. No executions have, however, taken place since 1997, following a de facto moratorium on death penalty introduced by the late President Mwanawasa and followed by President Banda. Also President Sata has to date chosen to follow the path of his two predecessors by not signing any death warrants.
Nevertheless, Zambian courts of law continue issuing death sentences, and on the international scene, Zambia has neither supported the UN General Assembly resolutions on a worldwide suspension on the use of the death penalty, nor approved the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1989 that provides for the abolition of the death penalty.
In the meantime, prisoners on death row in Mukobeko Maximum Security Prison are accumulating and reports suggest that seven or eight inmates are currently kept in cells designed to hold two. And I can understand them, – what future do they hold, what life is there to deprive them of? As   the Nobel Prizewinning author, journalist and philosopher, Albert Camus, stated, well before capital punishment was abolished in France in 1981:
“Capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal’s deed, however calculated, can be compared. For there to be an equivalency, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not encountered in private life.”
Of course, all sovereign nations have the right to create laws. However, such laws must be formulated within the boundaries of respect for human rights. Slavery, racial segregation and lynching are looked upon with horror today, but all had widespread support in the societies where and when they occurred, and history is littered with human rights violations that were supported by the majority but later recognised as gross violations of the victims’ human rights.
In the EU we believe that death penalty is in this category, and today no country is allowed to join the European Union without having abolished the death penalty.
Research on death penalty demonstrates that public support for capital punishment is overwhelmingly based on a desire to be free from crime. There is, however, no evidence that death penalty discourages crime, or makes society safer.
Far from making society safer, the death penalty has even been shown to have a brutalising effect on society.
Not least, thanks to technological progress, we are experiencing an increased number of cases proving that courts of law have made mistakes and issued death sentences on innocent people. Whilst wrongful convictions may be corrected, there is obviously no remedy to correct executions carried out based on wrongful convictions.
Furthermore, although it is understandable that people want to ensure justice for victims of brutal crimes, be reminded that the death penalty is social injustice in its most lethal form. – Systematically, this most extreme punishment is being handed out almost exclusively to the poor…
I have seen with horror the last death penalty executed in my country, 37 years ago. Therefore, I am proud that the European Union holds a strong and principled position against death penalty. The abolition of death penalty worldwide is a main objective of the EU’s Human Rights policy. We consider death penalty to be a cruel and inhuman punishment which represents an unacceptable denial of human dignity and integrity.
In recent years, the Supreme Courts in Uganda, Kenya and Malawi have declared the mandatory death penalty unconstitutional. It is my sincere hope that the debate on the Constitutional review process launched by the Government of Zambia will pave the way for abolition of death penalty in Zambia.
The author is Ambassador and Head of the European Union Delegation to Zambia and COMESA

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