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Arguments against Death Penalty

January 2011

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Against the death penalty: killing to show that killing is wrong?

The death penalty is the absolute denial of the most basic human right, the right to life, as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It must be viewed as the ultimate form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Years spent on death row may also be considered a form of torture, which is everywhere banned under the 1984 Convention against Torture. Nowadays, the general trend worldwide is towards abolition of the death penalty.

Many reasons to take action against the death penalty:

- It is not a deterrent.
It has never been proven that the death penalty is a greater deterrent than other forms of punishment. On the contrary, studies have shown that the death penalty may well lead to a rise in violent crime in that it can trivialise barbaric behaviour. Most criminals do not think they will ever be arrested and punished, hence the question of whether they are risking the death penalty or life imprisonment does not even cross their minds. The best way of preventing crime, including violent crime, is not to impose more severe penalties but to guarantee that all crime will be punished.

- It depends on a fallible judicial process.
Human justice is not infallible and the risk of executing innocent people remains very real in those countries which apply the death penalty. Such tragedies are often linked to weaknesses in the legal system: botched investigations, the lack of defence for the accused person, etc. The death penalty is discriminatory: it is imposed largely on minorities, the poor and members of ethnic or religious groups. It may be used as an instrument of political repression if the authorities use it to stifle political dissent.

- It does not provide firmly based protection for society.
It is obvious that capital punishment excludes the criminal from society for good. But do countries have the right to use such means if the same aim can be achieved by other punishments, such as the deprivation of freedom? Eliminating a criminal by putting him or her to death is the easy way out, avoiding the real problem, which is reform of the penal system or even society as a whole. By acting in this way, does not the State set an example – legally – of the ultimate in violence?

- It does not allow for reform of the guilty person.
The death penalty is irreversible. It puts an end to any process of healing, of rehabilitation into society, and from this point of view it means admitting that society has failed to show solidarity with its most marginalised members. Killing human beings means destroying them, not punishing them.

- It does not respect the right to life.
The right to life of those who are guilty of crimes should not depend on other people judging them fit to live. The right to life is an absolute, and the death penalty is one form of contempt for life. The right to life is an essential principle of Christians and all other believers, for whom it is a gift from God.

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