At the United Nations, 15 November, some 87 countries including 27 European Union States were able to secure approval by the vital Third Committee of the General Assembly for a draft proposal seeking to “establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.” By a vote of 99 countries for and 52 against, the Committee, which has responsibility for social, humanitarian affairs and human rights, is obligated to endorse and submit the proposal to the UN General Assembly for consideration and final adoption. Non-binding as the final outcome, a resolution, might be, member nations would be required to gradually phase out capital punishment, while reducing the type of offences that could attract its imposition.
Americans, whose Federal laws have retained the death penalty from the earliest times, would definitely be a hard nut to crack for all those countries and human rights bodies that believe they could steamroller their way to victory. With
The stance of the
Now, anyone familiar with American history, with the injustices, snares and brutalities that minority ethnic nationalities, particularly blacks, had to contend with from the early 17th century to the first half of the 20th century, would appreciate the validity of the explanation by Justice Douglas. In
The British officials and their counterparts in other European capitals were essentially no different in psychological makeup from the Kosovo masses who jubilated for days along the streets of Pristina, upon news of the 15 January 2004 assassination of the notorious Serbian paramilitary leader, Zelkjo Raznatovic, alias Arkan. Such wild jubilations had been recorded in black communities and among liberal whites in South Africa after the assassination in 1962 of then Prime Minister Heinrich Verwoed; in Pakistan after its strongman, General Zia Ul-haq had been blown up; in former Zaire, now Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) after the death of Mobutu Sese Sekou, and even in Nigeria, in 1998 after the death of General Sani Abacha. That is the heart of man, the spirit force of his being, the power that lurks behind the personality that he projects, in expression. It demands that for injustice and crime divine retribution and the human penal system must apply and be seen to have applied in a manner commensurate with the offence, to serve as deterrent and preserve for humanity harmony and orderliness.
Concern for “human dignity,” as canvassed by the aforesaid nations, groups and individuals pushing for abolition of death penalty, ought to begin with the renunciation of war. Nothing in the experience of humankind in all history so totally divests man of his dignity and fundamental freedoms as war. Politicians in those nations as well as leaders of the human rights organisations that pushed the said draft proposal at the UN know the horrors of the disintegrative processes in the former Yugoslavia, the story of genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and after, the barbarism of Charles Taylor-sponsored ragtag forces in Sierra Leone and the degenerate elements in Uganda’s Lords Resistance Army. Presently,
Now, what is greater indignity than that? So, why is anyone bothered about the dignity of a convicted murderer – a person duly investigated, arraigned, and proven to have willfully (and oftentimes, brutally) terminated the life of another human, and even given the opportunity of appeal – and not about how to institute processes that will hopefully check human inclination to war? It is a contradiction to accept war as a means of resolving disputes, internationally or within national borders, while rejecting death penalty outright. War takes lives in thousands and millions without differentiating between guilty and innocent. Anybody could be felled by bullets or mowed down by bombs, irrespective of innocence. Even children could be felled. Let
Now, how can
There is very little to choose between them. Not even the human rights community in
What looked like official position on the subject emerged on 4 January, 2000 when the then Minister of Cooperation and Integration in Africa, Professor Jerry Gana, declared to State House correspondents that the Federal Government had granted pardon to all convicts who had been on the death row for 20 years and upwards, and also commuted the conviction of others who had been on death row for 10 years to life imprisonment. (The Guardian (
That action by the last regime, widely publicised, sufficiently signaled the thinking in Government that capital punishment be discouraged and ultimately abolished. The criminals have not seen any public executions by firing squads (as used to be common in the 1970s and 1980s) or hangings in prison yards since then, yet they have been at their most vicious. We know that armed robbery, hired assassinations and related forms of violence have been at their worst in the past eight years. Armed robbers have been most daring these days, attacking police stations and other security formations, bullion vans, banks, and other public places in broad daylight. The viciousness of the criminals these days could be so chilling. There was, for instance, the case of a luxury bus whose occupants were ordered to file out and lie prostrate on the highway in the dark. They did, and were crushed within a few minutes by a truck at top speed. Do those robbers, if caught, deserve anything less than the pain they caused those innocent passengers?
Opponents of death penalty believe that life imprisonment would do for offences of a capital nature. They need to be reminded that even if that were acceptable,
Death penalty, if restricted to culpable homicide, need not be a headache to the world. The UN General Assembly should at best preoccupy itself with specification of offences for which capital punishment could be imposed. That’s the aspect of the aforesaid draft proposal that could improve justice systems around the world.