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Why death penalty is not the answer to problem of violent crime

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Added 29th January 2018 12:58 PM

Your Excellency, sir, the death penalty has no deterrent effect.

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Your Excellency, sir, the death penalty has no deterrent effect.

By Paul Wanaye Wamimbi

Recently, President Yoweri Museveni was quoted in the media saying “he has not been assenting to hanging of convicts because of his Christian background, but being lenient is causing Ugandans to think they can cause harm and get away with it”.

He also went ahead to state “I think being too lenient is also becoming a problem. The criminals think they have a right to kill people and keep their heads. I think I am going to revise a bit and hang a few. I will revise my position,” Museveni warned as he presided over the passing out of 919 prisons officers at the Luzira Prisons Training Academy on Thursday, January 18, 2018.

Your Excellency, sir, the death penalty has no deterrent effect. Claims that each execution deters a certain number of murders have been thoroughly discredited by social science research.

In civilised society, the principle of literally doing to criminals what they did to their victims is unacceptable: The penalty for rape cannot be rape, or for arson, the burning down of the arsonist’s house. We should not, therefore, punish the murderer with death.

Capital punishment is a barbaric and primitive remnant of uncivilised society. It is immoral in principle and unfair and discriminatory in practice. It assures the execution of some innocent people. As a remedy for crime, it has no purpose and no effect.

As per now death penalty is unacceptable, however, grave the crime of the convicted person. It is an offence to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person; it likewise contradicts God’s plan for individuals and society and his merciful justice. Nor is it consonant with any just purpose of punishment. It does not render justice to victims, but instead fosters vengeance. The commandment ‘though shall not kill’ has the absolute value and applies to both the innocent and the guilty.

It must not be forgotten that the inviolable and God-given right to life also belongs to the criminal.

International and national bodies have determined that several methods of execution are likely to violate the prohibition of torture, because of the pain and suffering they are likely to inflict on the convicted person. Studies of the severe pain and suffering caused by other methods has continued to extend this list, to the point where it has become increasingly difficult for a president to impose the death penalty without violating international human rights law.
The long and highly stressful period that most individuals endure while waiting on ‘death row’ for years or even decades, and frequently in isolation, for an uncertain outcome, has also been referenced as constituting torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

There are many reasons why our President should move away from the death penalty, starting with its capricious and frequently discriminatory application and its failure to demonstrate any deterrent effect beyond that of other punishments.

The severe mental and physical suffering which are inflicted by capital punishment on the person concerned and family members should now be added to the weight of the argument. The use of the death penalty should be ended.

Death penalty does not serve the cause of justice. How likely is it, really, that a killer will be more deterred by the risk of the death penalty than by having to spend the rest of his life in prison? The claim fails the test of common sense. Criminologists and police chiefs say the death penalty just does not influence murderers - partly because its application is so haphazard…

It is true that the purpose of punishment is not only deterrence, but also retribution. But this does not justify the popular view that killers should be killed, any more than it would support the idea that rapists should be raped or thieves stolen from.

To be just, retribution must be measured and restrained. That's the difference between justice and revenge.

However horrible the act they have committed, I believe that everyone has the potential to improve and correct themselves. Therefore, I am optimistic that it remains possible to deter criminal activity and prevent such harmful consequences of such acts in society, without resorting to death penalty. My overriding belief is that it is always possible for criminals to improve and that by its finality the death penalty contradicts this.

Your Excellency, do you want a hateful, vengeful country, one that turns its back on its children and then executes them, that denies its mentally ill treatment and medicine they need and then puts them to death when demons are no longer kept at bay.

If we examine our own system, face its flaws and think about what kind of society we want to have, we will ultimately conclude that, like slavery and segregation, death penalty is a relic of another era, that it represents the dark side of the human spirit, that we are capable of more constructive approaches to the problem of crime in our society.

Death penalty is an ineffective, cruel and simplistic response to the serious and complex problem of violent crime. It institutionalises discrimination against the poor and people of ethnicity, political affiliation, diverts attention and financial resources away from preventative measures that would actually increase public safety, risks the execution of innocent people, and does not deter crime.

Capital punishment is not only an atrocity, but also a stain on the record of the world’s most powerful democracy. Doctors should not be in the job of killing. Those who do participate in this barbaric act are shameful examples of how a profession has allowed its values to be corrupted by state violence.

The writer is the youth minister of the InzuYamasaaba

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