The EU’s capital punishment abolitionist movement

OCTOBER 10, 2010 was designated as the World Day against the Death Penalty. As claimed, there are now 139 countries that abandoned the death penalty, which excludes the Christian states of the Caribbean. The forecast is for more countries to join the movement in the coming year. With increasing conversions to Islam, the number of Muslims worldwide for the first time, 1.8 billion approximately, now surpasses followers of the diminishing Roman Catholic faith of approximately 1.3 billion, but still the largest Christian religion. It is unlikely that Muslim countries which abide by Sharia law, that prescribes various forms of capital punishment for certain offences, would be influenced by the EU’s abolitionist movement anytime soon. Other major antagonists, including China and the US, also promise to be uncompromising on the issue.

“The EU encourages public debate, strengthening public opposition and putting pressure on retentionist countries to abolish the death penalty, or at least introduce a moratorium as a first step. The EU’s overbearing attitude in dealing with sovereign domains could be interpreted as adjudicating on issues of faith and morals across cultures which experience very different histories regarding capital homicide at varying levels, from individuals to genocides. The EU contends that all such perpetrators should be treated similarly and incarcerated at taxpayers’ expense, thus avoiding the “cruel and inhuman punishment, which represents an unacceptable denial of human dignity and integrity”. Shelter and three meals a day seem to be grossly inequitable recompense relative to the gravity of the debt owed to society. As the Mikado in Gilbert and Sullivan’s musical states: “The punishment must fit the crime.”

In all of the rhetoric there is no mention of the cruel and inhuman treatment meted out to victims and by association their families. This has always been the arch criticism of the proposal to abandon the death penalty. Too often we hear voices raised in defence of the aggressors without equal concern for their victims. There are repeated calls for the perpetrators to be allowed to forgo the penalties prescribed under the domestic law which includes capital and non-capital punishment. We are led to believe that the preservation of the aggressor’s life outweighs the loss, anguish, and grief of the lifeless victim’s relatives.

Jamaica strongly supports capital punishment, but has not carried out an execution for many years because of restrictions placed on Jamaica’s legal system by rulings of the UK Privy Council. Unlike Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana, Jamaica has not yet moved through constitutional change to neutralise the restriction on the death penalty for executions to proceed. In 2009, apart from the stunning total number of homicides at 1680, the nature of the killings is a very important factor that the EU seems not to understand.

The tragic slaughter of innocent human beings includes the shooting of women, pregnant and otherwise, babies, children and the elderly, involving beheading and dismemberment, to name some of the barbaric practices that are anathema in a civilised Christian society. If similar brutal murders had taken place in the EU, they may have adopted a different point of view towards the death penalty. God forbid, but if there is ever another significant attack by Al Qaeda in the EU, the terrorists, if caught, would likely be treated accordingly by public demand, instead of being given “bed and breakfast” for the rest of their lives.

The trials in Nuremburg, Germany, at the end of WWII demonstrated that if only one brutal murder occurred in the concentration camps, the trials and the resulting executions of those responsible were just and equitable. Today leaders from Serbia, Congo and Somalia, to name a few, are being asked to answer for their alleged crimes against humanity in the International Court at The Hague, Holland. If convicted, they may be incarcerated for life after exterminating an incalculable number of innocent human beings who also had the right to life. Is there any wonder therefore at the rise in extra-judicial killings by law enforcement agencies worldwide?

The spectre of wrongful conviction by jury could result in sentencing an innocent person to death, as regrettably has occurred in the past before the development of DNA evidence that is now available. The release of inmates on death row after DNA proved their innocence has attracted universal attention. Conversely, the same DNA evidence applied proactively can avoid wrongful convictions in the future. Furthermore, rejection of capital punishment by the Roman Catholic Bishops of the West Indies does not negate its application in extreme cases, as recorded in the new Catechism

Article 2267: “Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility has been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”

The belief that the absence of capital punishment reduces homicides has not been proved. With regard to Jamaica, which has not carried out a death sentence since the 1980s, the murder rate spiralled out of control. It was only recently, when there was a dedicated offensive by the security forces against the armed gangs responsible for most of the homicides, that we had a significant reduction.

While respect is due to the EU’s abolitionist campaign motivated by their cultural beliefs, we expect mutual respect for our Caribbean culture that includes Jamaica.