Justice done by execution?
Given the execution of five people in Taiwan on Friday, further to my article in the Taipei Times (“Abolishing executions safeguards our rights,” April 9, 2010, page 8), I must reiterate my complete opposition to, and disgust with, the continuation of the death penalty in Taiwan.
From the outset, I must clarify that the people executed most likely all committed heinous crimes and deserve to be punished accordingly, which means being locked away for life. However, the death penalty is not an issue of punishment, but an issue of human rights, as I and many others have clearly argued before.
First, there is always the possibility of a miscarriage of justice, as the recent case of the wrongful conviction of Chiang Kuo-ching (江國慶) proves beyond a doubt (“MND apologizes for wrongful execution,” Jan. 31, page 1). Because the death penalty is the one punishment that can never be reversed, it is always unjust — because courts, no matter how impartial, are inherently incapable of avoiding errors.
Second, internationally recognized human rights [trials] have beyond any doubt ruled that the death penalty is “cruel, inhuman or -degrading -treatment or punishment,” which violates an individual’s human rights.
Third, as I have argued before, there needs to be a final safeguard so that governments can never use the death penalty for their political interests. For these reasons, there is a strong international trend toward abolishing the death penalty. Apparently, the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has not yet caught up with history.
With these executions, the Ma administration again proves that it does not understand the first thing about internationally recognized human rights.
For all of its pretty words about upholding human rights, when it comes to hard decisions, the administration apparently has no qualms about throwing human rights straight out the window to score a few cheap votes in upcoming elections.
Given the administration’s track record on human rights, economic equality and environmental protection, one can conclude that economic growth and prosperity for the richest few are its only real concerns.
While I would like to see an outcry from the expat community in Taiwan about these violations of basic human rights, it is only Taiwanese voters who can ultimately punish the administration for its one-sided decisions.
One would also hope that the Democratic Progressive Party finally makes up its mind and unequivocally promises to once and for all banish the death penalty from Taiwan’s law books if it should win the next national elections.
Execution is no deterrent
My father happens to be a retired psychiatrist who worked in Quebec’s top maximum security prison (Saint-Vincent-de-Paul Prison) once a week for more than 20 years. For years, especially because three of his brothers were also psychiatrists and yearly New Year festivities took place at our home, we, the children, were raised amid many arguments in favor of or against capital punishment, and about the nature of the mental afflictions and social conditions that lead to crime.
My father, who counseled the worst criminals, believes that neither the petty nor the most serious offenders necessarily act rationally and that for them, “finding a way to get away with it” far outweighs consideration of the potential punishment, as stated in your editorial (“Tar and feathers on Ma for killings,” March 8, page 8). The nature of the offenders varies greatly, of course, as do the conditions that led them to do what they did.
When I took some psychology classes in college, as part of my studies in public health, I spent a lot of time looking at studies on capital punishment from all over the Western world.
After the 1960s and 1970s, very few studies have found that capital punishment acts as a deterrent to crime. This largely is why the UN, many countries and dozens of states in the US have acted against it.
This is also why local NGOs here have been fighting so hard against it, sometimes with my limited participation.
As my good father once said, there is no moral argument for capital punishment. Most leading religions of the world say the same thing: You shall not kill.
Whether the killer kills (or whatever crime is committed), or we kill the killers, there is no moral, statistical or judicial validity in saying that capital punishment deters crime.
Taiwan, under Ma the stray horse, is taking a huge step backward with all these recent executions, and the many more to come according to the taste of Ma’s judicial officers.
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