Real deal behind abolition
Huang Juei-ming’s (黃瑞明) stance is clear (“Germany’s path toward abolishing executions,” March 13, page 8) in that he supports the death penalty. However, we see no argument in his article that would support its legitimacy.
Since resuming executions last year, has public security improved in Taiwan? Have the perpetrators in the Taichung shooting incident or in the attack on Sean Lien (連勝文) been deterred by the death penalty?
Instead, Huang assumes the role of an historian. By selectively distorting historical details, he attempts to deal a blow to the legitimacy of the movement to abolish capital punishment.
The road to positive historical developments, such as human rights or democracy, has often been full of twists and turns and success came when conditions were ripe. Isn’t Taiwan’s road to democracy the best example?
Was Germany’s abolition of the death penalty an accidental feat of diehard Nazi sympathizers as Huang suggests? It may have been a consideration for the small right-wing Deutsche Partei (German Party), which held a minute number of the 65 seats in the Parliamentary Council, the postwar predecessor of Germany’s current parliament. The formal motion, however, was put forward by Social Democrat Friedrich Wagner.
The Social Democrats had a long abolitionist tradition and had also suffered political murder at the hands of the Nazis. Therefore, they sought to safeguard against the use of the death penalty as a political weapon and the motion was finally passed with the help of the Christian Democratic Union.
Huang also refuses to acknowledge the long history of the abolitionist movement in Germany that dates back to the 1848 revolution when the goal of abolition was included in the drafts of the Prussian Constitution and the Constitution of the national parliament in Frankfurt. In 1870, an abolitionist motion was passed on its second reading, but was overturned on its third reading.
In 1918 and 1927, Germany’s left-wing parties again tried to abolish the death penalty. Last but not least, Konrad Adenauer, the chairman of the Parliamentary Council and first chancellor of West Germany, had been persecuted by the Nazis. He had been suspended from office as mayor of Cologne in 1933 and was arrested in 1934 and again in 1944 when he probably just narrowly escaped with his life. What motivation would he have to save Nazi criminals?
Far from being accidental, abolition of the death penalty in Germany was rather the culmination of a long-term development, as it has been in most other democratic countries in the world.
Huang says that 80 percent of the German population supported the death penalty in 1949, but then complains that a majority of Germans nowadays clearly support abolition. How did this huge reversal come about?
Experience has demonstrated that capital punishment does not bring about a higher degree of public safety, as there is no correlation between the murder rate and capital punishment. Rather, the murder rate is determined by a multitude of socioeconomic factors.
More importantly, our inalienable right to life should never be subject to opinion polls, just as the right to a fair trial should never be replaced by a lynch mob (“Abolishing executions safeguards our rights,” April 9, page 8).
Indeed, inalienable human rights exist to protect citizens from the ebbs and flows of public opinion, changing governments and concepts of justice. For Huang to write that “the way Taiwan is acting is more in line with the practices of a democratic nation” is a very surprising statement from a law professor, who should know better that fundamental human rights are not subject to opinion polls.
Therefore, it is extremely deplorable that Minister of Justice Tseng Yung-fu (曾勇夫) went ahead with further executions shortly after the widely publicized case of Chiang Kuo-ching (江國慶) who was wrongly executed in 1997. As long as the death penalty exists, further cases of wrongful executions are bound to happen.
In the words of Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, whose state recently became the 16th in the US to formally abolish the death penalty: “Since our experience has shown that there is no way to design a perfect death penalty system, free from the numerous flaws that can lead to wrongful convictions or discriminatory treatment, I have concluded that the proper course of action is to abolish it.”
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