Thursday, October 11, 2012
Death Penalty Doesn't Help Curb Crime
by Peerzada Salman KARACHI, Oct 10:
The death penalty does not help eradicate crime from society. We need to change our social structure so that the crime rate could be brought down. Awarding capital punishment to criminals is not the solution to that end. This was argued by speakers at an event organised to observe the World Day against Death Penalty (Oct 10) by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan at the commission’s office on Wednesday.
HRCP Coordinator Syed Shamsuddin gave a brief background of the issue. He said in 2008, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on a death penalty moratorium for which 106 countries voted in favour and 46 against.
Then amendments were proposed to the resolution for which 105 voted in favour while 48 decided in the negative. In Pakistan, there has been a moratorium on capital punishment for the past four years.
Research suggested poor and illiterate people were usually subjected to the death penalty; they were those individuals who could not afford a lawyer to fight their case.
Dr Sabir Michael said the above-mentioned moratorium was EU-driven. The basic philosophy behind it was that the right to life was a natural right. The question was what to do with those who took someone else’s lives.
He said crime could not be eradicated by the use of power. The crime rate in the countries where it had been abolished was much less. In order to rid society of crime and criminals, people’s mindset must be changed, education must be provided, tolerance must be preached and good governance must be ensured.
He argued that if a person killed someone it indicated inadequacy or inefficiency of law-enforcement agencies. The qisas and diyat system in Islam meant the death penalty was not inevitable, he said. Dr Michael pointed out crime was a product of a social environment where there was no rule of law. The death penalty inculcated fear in people but it did not eliminate crime.
He said there were 8,000 prisoners in Pakistan who were sentenced to death. Usually, it is the lower courts which give such a verdict but by the time it reaches upper courts things tend to change. This was the area they needed to work on, he said and added it was important to engage media, politicians and the youth on the issue. He said two kinds of countries opposed the abolition of the death penalty: powerful and those with large populations.
Dr Tauseef Ahmed Khan said the issue was linked to human rights. Going back in time when there were tribal societies, he said, the state which was based on oppression (jabr) usually imposed such laws so that terror could be spread, and killing people was one such means. If there was a rebellion against a monarch, he would kill the rebels.
With the advent of the industrial revolution, workers and labour movements began to take root and it was agreed upon that unless human rights were not given, things could not improve. He told the gathering that it was in 1948 that the human rights charter came into being.
Dr Khan said in Pakistan and India, the system generally supported the privileged class. He disagreed with Dr Michael that only powerful and densely populated countries supported the death penalty and said that countries with military rule and monarchies (such as Saudi Arabia) also opposed the abolition of capital punishment because they depended on ruthless use of power.
He said when Yousuf Raza Gilani was prime minister he tried to do away with the punishment but the law ministry suggested to him that he should not announce it because it was against Islam.
Dr Khan said there were international conventions because of which 80,000 Pakistani soldiers were not killed after the 1971 war. Such conventions should be implemented in letter and spirit. There was also the need for changing people’s mindset on the subject.
Dr Riaz Sheikh talked about the concept of social control. He said those in minority decided the fate of the majority. He said the philosophy of capital punishment, among other things, had the element of danger to property. Those who had property feared that the underprivileged were after their land. It was Karl Marx who pinpointed the problem and enlightened us that there were social reasons behind every dilemma.
He informed the audience that in Saudi Arabia, 70 per cent of such punishments were awarded to those who were not Saudi citizens, and out of those 90 per cent belonged to South Asia (mainly Pakistan and Bangladesh).
Dr Sheikh said there was a need to look into blasphemy laws and honour killings. In honour killing cases, the killer often surrendered himself on the spot suggesting he could justify the killing later on, he said.
A question and answer session followed during which Dr Michael told a questioner that in many countries crime was treated like a disease. He said nobody was suggesting that the killers should get off scot-free. They should face all other relevant punishments.