AFTER MALAWI, IS IT TIME FOR US TO RETHINK DEATH PENALTY AS PUNISHMENT?

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“Death Penalty” as punishment has been a long drawn topic of debate for decades now; however, it is a relief to find nations abstaining from the use of the death penalty as a punishment. As per recent data, around 170 member countries of the United Nations have refrained from imposing capital punishment as a result of tireless efforts of various International and national organizations advocating for human rights.

The Path-breaking Decision of Malawi Supreme Court

Recently, Malawi, a small Southeastern African nation decided to do away with the age-old practice of sentencing perpetrators to death as a derogation to the sanctity of the Right to Life under Section 45(1) of the Constitution of Malawi. The Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation of Malawi further appreciated this landmark decision of the Supreme Court saying the death penalty so far has been ineffective in contributing as an active deterrence against crime rates.

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This decision of the Malawi Supreme Court will hopefully pave way for other nations still resorting to the death penalty as a means of punishment to rethink their laws and make the necessary amends. Several international organizations have been working towards the abolition of this boorish method of punishment considering that not only is it inhumane but also discriminatory as it often leads to the execution of the wrong person due to botched-up trials.

International Statute Against Death Penalty

International statutes like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights uphold the Right to Life vesting upon the State the responsibility to provide all the safeguards possible to any individual sentenced with the death penalty. Though Article 6 of the ICCPR does not put a blanket ban on the use of capital punishment, it simultaneously states that nothing in the article would prevent or delay the abolition of capital punishment by any State.

Later, a Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR was adopted by the UN General Assembly as an initiative towards the abolition of the death penalty, and the Member States signing up for the Protocol decided to refrain from executing convicts within their jurisdiction

Death Penalty as a Discriminatory Means of Punishment

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UN Independent expert, Philip Alston commented on the death penalty as being “reserved only for the poor” who cannot afford decent legal representation and hold little to no value in the eyes of the Government. A heart-wrenching episode occurred in the state of Tennessee, United States when a young black and poor man, Ndume Olatushani was sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit. He was compelled to spend 20 years on death row and was finally set free after nearly 3 decades of being shackled and mistreated. Ndume described his time in prison saying he did not find a single rich and privileged person sitting on death row. 

Another incident that hogged the limelight was the death sentence recently given to 4 rape and murder convicts of a 23-year-old paramedical student. This execution by the State was criticized by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) as being discriminatory since another perpetrator convicted for the rape of a 17-year-old girl from Unnao and subsequent killing of her family members, was sentenced to only life imprisonment owing to his political connections. These are just a few instances and the list goes on. 

Recent Stance of States on Death Penalty

As per the Annual Report released by Amnesty International, as many as 123 member states of the UN have come out in support of the biennial resolution on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty before the UN General Assembly with Chad, Colorado, Virginia, and Malawi being the recent most countries to join the noble cause. 

While countries like Iraq and Saudi Arabia have shown a significant decrease in the number of death sentences awarded in 2020, other countries like Egypt, Qatar, and Oman have shown an alarming rise in the number of executions. However, with the increased sensitivity and awareness among States, we can hope that shortly we will be able to live in a world free from the barbaric means of punishment.


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