Human Rights Watch issued a press release today calling for the newly elected government in Pakistan to abolish the death penalty. I fully agree with this. The death penalty is cruel and inhumane and violates an individual’s fundamental right to life. We are not going to have peace as long as it is acceptable to kill a fellow human being as a form of punishment. The death penalty is an inherently unpeaceful, violent act. Often arguments against the death penalty focus on the fact that it is too final and mistakes can been made (resulting in the murder of someone not guilty of the crime), or they do not call for abolishing the death penalty altogether but simply call for more “humane” ways of putting people to death. However, these arguments miss the point, in my opinion. The phrases “humane” and “murder” are oxymorons to me: killing another human is by nature inhumane. The death penalty, which constitutes state-endorsed, legal murder, should not be used even if one could be perfectly sure in every case that the person being put to death is in fact guilty of the crime of which they are accused, and that the method being used resulted in the least pain.
I am extremely displeased with the fact that the United States continues to be one of the leading countries using the death penalty, with the fifth-highest number of executions in 2007, according to a report from Amnesty International. Certainly the 42 executions in the United States does not seem like much compared to over 100 each in the top four countries (including Pakistan), but it is 42 more than it should have been.
I am pleased that the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution last December by a wide margin calling for a moratorium on the death penalty, and unfortunately not shocked that the United States voted against it, as mentioned in this article. I am a bit horrified that the U.N. representative from China apparently said, about this resolution, that “the issue was a question of judicial process — not human rights — and every country should be able to decide without interference.” I’m sorry, but the death penalty is very much about human rights – the right to live – and I’m glad that the majority of U.N. members recognized that. A government’s right to create their own judicial procedures should not trump individual, fundamental, human rights.