Sat, Jul 26, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: It's time to kill the death penalty

Human rights in this country are about to take another step forward. The Presidential Office's consultative team on human rights has drafted a human-rights bill based on the the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. It stresses protecting human rights and realizing President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) concept of nation-building based on human rights. The bill will not only provide the123 public with more concrete guarantees of their rights, but it will also effectively increase the distance between Taiwan and China. Coming at a time when Hong Kong has just seen massive demonstrations protesting a measure that would abridge many of its people's rights, the bill makes it clear that respect for human rights will is the biggest difference between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.

The bill adopts many advanced concepts, such as abolishing the death penalty and allowing same-sex couples to adopt children. These are major breakthroughs and deserve kudos. However, they are also highly controversial social issues. Long-running efforts will be needed to realize them in the legal system.

Death-for-death retribution is an outmoded concept. Correcting the psychological and behavioral patterns of criminals so that they can return to society after they have served their punishment is now the goal. However, many serious criminals have caused great harm to society. It is difficult for them to change even after receiving correctional education and treatment. They should remain quarantined from society.

The DPP has long advocated abolishing the death penalty, but public satisfaction with law enforcement and social order has always been low. The idea of using heavy punishment to tackle social chaos is also prevalent. Public support for the death penalty has always been above 70 percent. Such a strong psychological dependence on the death penalty means the government dares not push hard to abolish it. It can only resort to legislative amendments to remove articles requiring mandatory death penalties so that judges can mete out appropriate penalties according to the gravity of the crime.

This country needs to undergo more education about the rule of law before the death penalty can be removed. The public needs to be educated that the death penalty is not the only option for improving law and order. The death penalty may be an effective way to stop criminals from harming others, but it is certainly not the only way to keep major criminals out of society.

Apart from the death penalty, life sentences have long been used to remove criminals from society, but the abuse of parole and amnesties have allowed some serious criminals -- such as Chen Chin-hsing (陳進興) -- to get their sentences reduced. Chen Chin-hsing was sentenced to life in prison but was released. He went on to commit more crimes that shocked the nation, including the kidnap and murder of Pai Hsiao-yen (白曉燕), the daughter of TV entertainer Pai Ping-ping (白冰冰). This caused the public to lose their trust in the concept of life sentences.

Even though the US is a country that attaches importance to human rights, many of its states still have the death penalty. However, several of theses states are gradually adopting the option of life sentences without parole instead of death ? -- largely because of dissatisfaction with the handling of such cases. Far too many people who were sentenced to death have been found to be innocent after spending years, even decades, on death row.

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