Tuesday, 14 April 2009

To Kill or Not to Kill – Who has the right to Capital Punishment?

Easter is a time of resurrection. Life triumphs over death on the religious and mythological scene. In the garden the yearly miracle, when nature shoots out dainty stems through the patches of snow or ice is a renewal of hope. 

While pondering on the sanctity of life, I was wondering how common is the death penalty nowadays.

60% of our planet’s population lives in countries, which use the death penalty or capital punishment as a deterrent to crime. Of these countries, four are the most populous in the world China, India, USA and Indonesia.

Can Institutions in the EU Kill People?

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In the EU, Chapter 1, Article 2 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union prohibits using capital punishments. But there is a footnote (actually a footnote hidden inside another footnote), which forbids death penalty 
"except in the case of war, riots and upheaval". 
Individual nation states are allowed to interpret what constitutes riots and upheavals, isn't that so!

Though EU member states cannot kill people legally, there are however institutions which do kill people. One of the largest European-American institutions, NATO, does not kill people and cannot do that in EU territory but in war areas (like Afghanistan or Iraq and earlier in Serbia or Bosnia) NATO gets away with lots of killing. If it’s the wrong target or the media reports later on that it’s a wedding party they killed then “Oops! We’re sorry!” and everything’s just fine. NATO needs to label undesirable people (living in far off, non EU places like Afghanistan) as terrorists or enemy combatants to justify air strikes or other military actions that kill people.

There are many ‘
institutions’ in EU, which have taken upon themselves the right to kill people when they want to. Some examples are the: 
In all likelihood, these organisations use different codes and terminology that those in TV shows like the Sopranos. If asked, members of these organisations would probably claim that they use “lethal force” against specific targets if it had approval from high on.

The Sicilian Cosa Nostra even has
Ten Commandments. The fourth and the tenth commandments are 
  • Don’t go to pubs and clubs!” and 
  • People who can't be part of Cosa Nostra: …. anyone who behaves badly and doesn't hold to moral values.
In the town of Corleone, Italy there is a Mafia museum. This is very different from the Mob Museum or Mafia Museum in Las Vegas, USA.

Budapest, Hungary also has a
mafia museum. 

Do Spooks or Spy Agencies Have a Licence to Kill?

Photo source: Wikimedia commons

In the movies and books, James Bond 007 or the “
Real 007” are supposed to have the “licence to kill”, but their employers or governments do not and would never acknowledge this. Governments of countries are also not allowed to legally kill people unless it takes place within the confines of its judicial system, and only if capital punishment is allowed in its constitution. Over the years, persistent claims that certain espionage agencies get rid off unwanted people by killing them refuse to die. Often these cannot be verified, because of the nature of the business, so rumours persist.

CIA is a common target of such rumours and speculations. Sir Richard Dearlove, the former British MI6 chief has openly confirmed before a British jury that MI6 was authorised to use “lethal force” against specific targets if it had ministerial approval.

The KGB or the FSB nowadays, can’t avoid such reputation with rumours of a certain “
Department Eightwhich, is reportedly involved in 
planning assasinations and sabotage in support of war or crisis activities.”

Death Penalty Global Situation

Photo source: Wikimedia commons

According to
Amnesty International: Out of 192 United Nations members, 

  • 92 countries have abolished capital punishment. 
  • 10 have retained it for special circumstances only. 
  • Fifty-nine countries have kept the death penalty and out of these 36 have not used it for over ten years.
The gold medal for maximum executions goes to China with 470 executions in 2007. Based on anecdotal evidence, the USA and HongKong based Dui Hua foundation estimates the real total in China to be 5000. Iran gets the silver medal with 317 and Saudi Arabia gets the bronze with 143.

If we calculate in executions per million people in the country: 

  1. Saudi Arabia is the world leader with 5.18. 
  2. Iran is the runner up with 4.5 and 
  3. Iraq in third place with 1.13. China falls much behind Pakistan (0,78) but is slightly ahead of USA (0.14).
More details about the US death penalty situation here.

The use of death penalty around the world (as of February 2011). Photo source: Wikimedia

In 2008 the worldwide execution rate grew to 2,390. 
  • China executed 1,740, 
  • Iran 342
  • Saudi Arabia 102
  • Pakistan 36
  • United States 37
  • Japan 15 people. 
Children were also not spared the death sentence. 

In some countries they try to execute people in a manner that they wouldn’t feel much pain, while in some countries the trend is the opposite. In Somalia, a girl of 13, who had been gang raped by three men (the men were not even arrested), was buried up to her neck in a football stadium in front of 1000 people and stoned to death.

In Iran the number of juveniles on death row grew to
140 up from 71 in 2007.

Capital Punishment Trends in Different Countries

According to an
October 2005 poll, 64% Americans, 44% Canadians 49% Britons support the death penalty. In all the three countries, support for capital punishment was lowest among 18-29 years olds.

29 % of Finns would approve of the death penalty as a punishment for certain crimes committed during peacetime. 41 % of those aged 35 to 49 are in favour of capital punishment. (Helsingin Sanomat, Suomen Gallup: November 21, 2006)

A recent government survey revealed that despite a recent rush of violent crimes in Japan, support for capital punishment had only risen by 2.1 percent, to 81.4%. (The Japan Times, February 20, 2005)

Is Death Penalty Effective as a Deterrent?

No, death penalty is not an effective deterrent! Statistics show that the opposite is true.

Photo source: Blue states have no death penalty. Dark brown = only lethal injection. Orange=lethal injection primary method, but can use others. Green= never used lethal injections.

In 2007, the average Murder Rate of Death Penalty States in USA was 5.5 per 100,000 people, while the average Murder Rate of States without the Death Penalty was 3.1 per 100, 000 people. 
  • Iowa (with no capital punishment) has a murder rate of 1.2 per 100,000 people. 
  • New Hampshire (has retained capital punishment for capital murder, but the last execution was in 1939) has only 1.1 per 100,000 people murder rate. 
  • Louisiana (a capital punishment state) has a murder rate of 14.2.
Photo source:

A 1995 study of the annual percentage increases in homicide rates in California showed that murders increased 10% a year during 1952 to 1967 when the state executed people. When California did not execute people (1968-1991) the average rate of increase was less (4.8%).

Canada's homicide rate has
dropped 27% since the death penalty was abolished in 1976.

A 1998 research study for the United Nations recommended a moratorium on the death penalty and concluded: 

"This research has failed to provide scientific proof that executions have a greater deterrent effect than life imprisonment. Such proof is unlikely to be forthcoming. The evidence as a whole still gives no positive support to the deterrent hypothesis." Source: R. Hood, "The Death Penalty: A World-wide Perspective," Clarendon Press, (1996), Page 238.

What People Say - Quotes About the Death Penalty
  • "Capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders." "For centuries the death penalty, often accompanied by barbarous refinements, has been trying to hold crime in check; yet crime persists." - 
    Resistance, Rebellion and Death
  • "What says the law? You will not kill. How does it say it? By killing!" 
    -Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables
The best quote about death penalty can be attributed to the US President notorious for saying things in ridiculous ways.

  • "I don’t think you should support the death penalty to seek revenge. I don’t think that’s right. I think the reason to support the death penalty is because it saves other people’s lives."  - 
    George W Bush at presidential debate 17.10.2000

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