The debate over whether the death penalty should be abolished or not is one of the top long-lasting and perfervid debated topics in the world. Some support the ‘ eye for an eye ‘ or ‘ life for life ‘ philosophy, while others believe that sanctioned death is wrong.
Humans are meant to live by following some rules and regulations. Breaking those rules is subject to punishment. The seriousness of the crime determines the degree of punishment. Since time immemorial, the concept of the death penalty has been used as a form of cruel punishment. Criminal acts and punishment have a profound impact on culture and civilization as they emerge from them. The death penalty, which is a form of capital punishment, has been used since the beginning of civilization on this globe. With the advancement of civilization, the methods of capital punishment have undergone tremendous humanized changes.
Many people believe that capital punishment is a violation of human rights. More than 70% of countries in the world have abolished the death penalty, either legally or in practice. But, the practice exists in various parts of the world, particularly in countries with larger populations and authoritarian governments. Because it is believed on the other side that the practice of the death penalty not only deters future crimes but also makes someone think twice about committing a fatal crime. However, the death penalty is a terrible reality that demonstrates that the world is filled with criminals and illegal activity.
Many ancient civilizations and tribal methods feature the death penalty as a part of their judicial systems. With tribal societies becoming social classes and the development of self-governed republics, the death penalty became a regular response to a range of crimes, including sexual assault, treason, and different military offenses. Written rules were developed to make people aware of the risks of indulging in any of these crimes and the first established death penalty rules can be found in King Hammurabi of Babylon’s Code, which codified the death sentence for 25 different crimes in the Eighteenth Century B.C.
During the 20th century, millions of people were killed in battles between nations or states. Military systems used execution punishment as a way of maintaining discipline during this turbulent period. In many religious beliefs, the death penalty was being used for crimes, and it was practiced with the support of religious leaders. Today, the morality of capital punishment is no longer associated with any particular faith. The punishment has been left up to the discretion of the judicial system.
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- 1929 – The 1929 Geneva Convention was the first international treaty to restrict the death penalty, limiting it to prisoners of war taken during armed conflict.
- 1948 – The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes a ‘right to life,’ was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.
- 1966 – Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was adopted in 1966, is the most important treaty provision dealing with the death sentence at the international level. The ICCPR encourages nations to work towards the total elimination of the death sentence. However, it does not make the abolition of the death penalty mandatory.
- 1984 – The UN Economic and Social Council adopted safeguards that ensure that persons facing the death penalty have their rights protected.
- 1989 – The UN General Assembly adopted the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR that giving abolition decisive new momentum.
- 1999 – Resolution of the United Nations Human Rights Commission Supporting a Worldwide Moratorium on Executions.
- 2007 – A resolution proposing a moratorium on capital punishment was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.
To date, the death penalty has been treated in accordance with international standards and rules safeguarding the right to life. Meanwhile, it has also been recognized as a legal sanction under international law under certain circumstances. Therefore it is to be noted that international law strongly advocates, but does not mandate or prohibit the abolition of the death sentence.
1. The number of abolitionist countries of the death penalty (1945- 2020)
The graph demonstrates the number of abolitionist countries which have abolished the death penalty had been steadily increased from, 7 in 1945 to 108 in 2020. This trend clearly indicates that the world is at a tipping point to abolishing the death penalty. However, it is to be noted that there are a number 44 retentionist countries as of 2020.
2. Recorded global executions (2011- 2020)
The above graph demonstrates the globally recorded executions from 2011 to 2020. This implicates the death penalty is on its way out, as the number of executions has significantly fallen over the past decade. Concerns about human rights, discrimination, potential unjust convictions, and its effectiveness as a deterrent are some of the factors driving this significant decline.
- Deterrence – Various studies have shown that the death penalty has no influence on violent crime rates and does not work as an effective deterrent. For example, the states in the U.S with the most executions also have the highest murder rates, which is very ironic. As a result, the death penalty appears inefficient for the purpose for which it was introduced.
- Retribution – The concept of retribution is ambiguous and it is merely a kind of the misguided belief that two wrongs can make a right. The most prevalent argument is that innocent people may be killed sooner or later by the death penalty as a result of the flaws or defects in the judicial system.
- Rehabilitation – The death penalty simply takes away a criminal’s right to seek rehabilitation. It eliminates the possibility of a non-habitual offender seeking an opportunity to change his or her behaviors. It is assumed that there is nothing that can be done about an offender who is just violating his or her rights.
- Deterrence – The death penalty acts as the most effective deterrent when it comes to deterring people from committing the most heinous acts. If offenders are sentenced to death and executed, it would prevent the would-be criminals from attempting the crime in fear of losing their own life. If for no other reason, at least as a deterrent for other potential criminals, we still need the death penalty.
- Retribution – The death penalty provides retribution for offenders and ensures that they are held accountable for their actions. For example, if we take an act of murder, it would be difficult to make murderers pay properly for their crime without the death penalty, because no punishment other than death truly correlates to the crime of murder.
- Rehabilitation – Some offenders are simply beyond help and will always pose a serious threat to society. The only choice left for these offenders who have lost all chance of forgiveness is to eliminate them from existence and not rehabilitation.
It is also suggested to research other perspectives such as cost-effectiveness, fail-safe justice system and historical recognition, etc.