Tuesday, December 18, 2012

No extradition if no death penalty

No extradition if no death penalty
By The Post
Tue 18 Dec. 2012, 14:00 CAT

It is shocking that some citizens of this country are seeking the retention of the death penalty in the new constitution. There is a growing trend to abolish this cruel, inhuman and degrading form of punishment. More than two thirds of the world's countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

The trend, both in Africa and globally, is towards ending the use of the death penalty. Since 2002, twenty-one countries have abolished capital punishment for all crimes, including several from Africa.

Across the countries of the Southern African Development Community, the appetite for death penalty is vanishing. Angola, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, the Seychelles and South Africa have already abolished it for all crimes. The battle to abolish the death penalty is being won. And Zambia should be on the winning side.

This being the case, why is the death penalty still being seen by some of our people as a fair and proportionate form of justice? Let's pause and ask ourselves: is there still a place for the death penalty in the 21st Century?

We are opposed to the use of the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle. We believe that the use of the death penalty undermines human dignity. There is no conclusive evidence of its deterrent value; and any miscarriage of justice leading to its imposition is irreversible and irreparable. Every justice system in the world makes mistakes.

As long as justice remains fallible, the risk remains of executing an innocent person. Sometimes people are convicted of crimes they did not commit; once a person is executed, it cannot be undone. Innocent people have been executed for crimes they didn't commit.

The death penalty is not justice; it is the failure of justice. As Mahatma Ghandi famously said, "An eye for an eye makes the world blind."

We oppose the death penalty in all cases as the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. It is the ultimate breach of the right to life as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is the predetermined and cold-blooded killing of a human being by the state and it is unacceptable regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender or the method use.

It is for these reasons that the worldwide anti-death penalty movement contains the voices of many who have lost their loved ones to, or have been victims of, violent crime do not want the death penalty imposed in their name.

Executions brutalise those involved in the process. Combating crime should not create more misery through more violence. Society should affirm life, not end it. An execution constitutes an extreme physical and mental assault on an individual. It is the killing of a human being by the state, a cruel, inhumane and degrading punishment that is done in the name of justice. When a state carries out the death penalty, society lowers itself to the level of the criminal.

There is no scientific proof to show that the death penalty offers a solution to the problem of crime. Instead, crime may be reduced through having better trained and equipped police officers and an effective system for the administration of justice, eradicating poverty and improving education, amongst other things.

Nowhere has it been shown that the death penalty is a better deterrent to crime than imprisonment. In fact, in countries where the death penalty has been abolished, crime rates have often fallen.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has a right to life and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Both the United Nations General Assembly and the African Commission on Human and People's Rights have adopted resolutions calling for a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.

Human rights are universal, indivisible and inter-dependent. They are based on many traditions that can be found in all civilisations. All religions advocate clemency, compassion and forgiveness and it is on these values that we base our opposition to the death penalty.

If we continue with the death penalty, soon we will find ourselves in the extreme minority in this region and isolated. And with the great majority of our neighbours having abolished the death penalty, it will become increasingly difficult to have meaningful, efficient and effective cooperation with them. Once criminals go to the other side where there is no death penalty, it will be very difficult to have them extradited so that they can be tried for their crimes here in Zambia.

Already, the South African courts have made it very clear that their country may not extradite criminal suspects to a country where they may face a death penalty unless that country has given assurance that they would not be sentenced to death. According to the courts, there is an absolute obligation on South Africa to obtain an assurance that the death penalty would not be imposed before it extradites a person to a state to be charged with a capital offence and it would be unconstitutional for the South African government to extradite a person with no death penalty assurance.

Of course, this may drastically affect that country's ability to develop and implement national policy that was aligned to building sound relations with other regional governments that have not yet abolished the death penalty and which protocols on extradition have been signed. But the right to life applies to all.

And it doesn't matter that there might be an impression created that the country was a haven for fugitive criminals from abroad. And this would not be so if all countries in the region were to remove the death penalty or were prepared to give assurances against the death penalty.
It is emphasised that preserving good relations with other states cannot come at the expense of rights - the right to life. The death penalty that we are trying to cling to is out of synchrony with the trend worldwide to abolish it.

Let's not try to cling to laws that we will have serious difficulties implementing. Today we already have a challenge: there are so many people on death roll who have not been executed because our successive presidents have been uncomfortable signing the death warrants for their execution.

Let's campaign for the abolition of the death penalty. This is something which we as citizens in the 21st Century can urge our government, our lawmakers to do.

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