Death penalty won’t curb bru­tal mur­ders

Lesotho Times - - Opinion & Analysis - Ut­loang Ka­jeno

IN the af­ter­math of the grue­some, sense­less and much-pub­li­cised mur­ders in Bela-bela and TY, I awaited in­tently what the re­ac­tion of the au­thor­i­ties would be.

Ap­pro­pri­ately, and in a man­ner be­fit­ting a true states­man, Prime Min­is­ter Thomas Tha­bane, in ex­tend­ing his con­do­lences to the be­reaved fam­i­lies and the na­tion, was livid and called for the death penalty to be vig­or­ously im­posed by the Courts.

This, com­ing from the high­est po­lit­i­cal of­fice in the land, war­rants some re­sponse if only be­cause it will re­ver­ber­ate across the length and breadth of Le­sotho.

We can­not shy away from the re­al­ity that cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment is an emo­tive and top­i­cal is­sue that needs to be han­dled with ex­treme care and in­tro­spec­tion.

To put the death penalty in its proper per­spec­tive, there­fore, one needs to state the fol­low­ing le­gal and so­cial back­ground, and in­ter­ro­gate whether it is re­ally a pun­ish­ment or state-sanc­tioned ret­ri­bu­tion?

The death penalty still ex­ists in our statute books for such of­fences as ag­gra­vated and pre­med­i­tated mur­der as well as rape and high trea­son. It can, thus, be seen from the fore­go­ing that the death penalty is handed-down in very rare, ex­treme and com­pelling cir­cum­stances.

For the record, the last per­son to be hanged in Le­sotho was ex­e­cuted in 1994. I will not dis­close his name here owing to the sanc­tity of hu­man life and def­er­ence to the de­parted and those who might be ad­versely af­fected by the dis­clo­sure of his name.

How­ever, the courts still im­pose the death penalty but it is almost in­vari­ably com­muted at the Ap­peal Court. This is for a va­ri­ety rea­sons that I will not men­tion in this col­umn owing to limited space. How­ever, be­fore I set-out my ar­gu­ment against the death penalty, it is in­struc­tive to quote from the Holy Scrip­ture, in the Old Tes­ta­ment book of Gen­e­sis 1:27 and 2:7, wherein it is said;

“So God cre­ated hu­man be­ings in his own im­age, in the im­age of God He cre­ated them; male and fe­male he cre­ated them…. Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nos­trils the breath of life, and man be­came a liv­ing be­ing.”

It fol­lows from the fore­go­ing that all hu­man be­ings are cre­ated in the im­age of God. If you kill or hurt another hu­man be­ing, you are killing or hurt­ing God him­self. By killing, that is, ex­e­cut­ing the death penalty, the state it­self is killing its cit­i­zens, con­trary to the law of God that “thou shall not kill”.

In call­ing for the death penalty for the of­fend­ers, my hum­ble view, is that the premier’s call was a knee-jerk re­ac­tion to an abom­inable crime that hurts our moral conscience as a na­tion.

He was un­der the cir­cum­stances, jus­ti­fied in his angry re­ac­tion to the crimes. That is as far as I can agree with him. The ra­tio­nale be­hind any crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem is to en­sure that a per­son found guilty of a crime should ex­pe­ri­ence some form of pun­ish­ment. After ex­e­cu­tion a body be­comes a corpse.

Pro­po­nents of the death penalty might ar­gue that it has a de­ter­rent ef­fect on the rest of the so­ci­ety. How­ever, this the­ory is equally flawed in that a num­ber of stud­ies have demon­strated that there is no cor­re­la­tion be­tween the ex­is­tence of the death penalty and the num­ber and types of crimes com­mit­ted by peo­ple.

In fact, there is no em­pir­i­cal sci­en­tific ev­i­dence to support the view that the death penalty has an ef­fect on the statis­tics of vi­o­lent crime.

If any­thing, by ad­vo­cat­ing the death penalty, the state is in ef­fect ter­ror­is­ing, for lack of a bet­ter term, the cit­i­zenry with an “eye for an eye” flawed ar­gu­ment.

When the rest of the (civilised) world is mov­ing away from the death penalty, Le­sotho is be­ing urged to ap­ply it rig­or­ously and rou­tinely.

What an in­jus­tice when the whole world is con­demn­ing the Is­lamic Sharia law that is prac­ticed in some Mus­lim coun­tries and the death penalty in some parts of the world, Le­sotho is be­ing urged to ap­ply it vig­or­ously. We are swimming against the tide.

Sharia law is that seg­ment of the Is­lamic law wherein where the cul­prit has been found guilty of mur­der he is be­headed. Wherein he has been found guilty of steal­ing his hands are cut-off. Wherein he has been found guilty of adul­tery he is pelted with rocks un­til he is dead. All th­ese pun­ish­ments are car­ried-out in full pub­lic glare.

Surely, our po­lit­i­cal lead­ers can­not visit th­ese pun­ish­ment on any cit­i­zen, ir­re­spec­tive of the crime he has been con­victed of. This sort of pun­ish­ment is akin to the law of the jun­gle and the mid­dle ages. Fur­ther­more, it is said in the Scrip­ture that, “re­venge is only mine, says the Lord”.

Man is not em­pow­ered to ex­act re­venge on a fel­low hu­man be­ing. The state ex­act­ing re­venge on its cit­i­zens would lead to an orgy and cy­cle of vi­o­lence. Vi­o­lence only begets vi­o­lence. It is a recipe for a very vi­o­lent so­ci­ety with no moral scru­ples.

It is in­deed doubt­ful whether any state can rightly ar­gue it has de­ter­mined how many peo­ple would have com­mit­ted mur­der but were de­terred by their fear of ex­e­cu­tion. It would be a state manned by sooth­say­ers and the om­nipo­tent who are able to see into a so­ci­ety’s fu­ture con­duct or read our in­ten­tions even be­fore we act. In fact, it is a Utopia.

Those who ar­gue for the death penalty say it sends a strong mes­sage to would-be mur­der­ers and so­ci­ety at large, that the state will come down hard on of­fend­ers, and that this will save lives. This ar­gu­ment is flawed in that it pre­sup­poses a state that rules by vi­o­lence, co­er­cion and in­tim­i­da­tion.

Such a state has no moral au­thor­ity to gov­ern if to achieve its ob­jec­tives it has to use threats. Fur­ther, the death penalty gives the guilty party no room to make amend for mis­car­riages of jus­tice and gives the guilty no time to come to grips with the enor­mity of the evils they have com­mit­ted.

In ef­fect, the death penalty goes against the mod­ern think­ing of re­ha­bil­i­ta­tive and restora­tive jus­tice.

Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tive jus­tice seeks to re-in­te­grate the of­fender into so­ci­ety or at least, make him un­der­stand and see the enor­mity of his evil ac­tions. This begs the ques­tion, how is the of­fender to be re­ha­bil­i­tated if he ends up be­ing, a life­less corpse. None at all!

Restora­tive jus­tice seeks to re­store the sta­tus quo or at least, com­pen­sate the vic­tim and their fam­i­lies for their rights that have been vi­o­lated. The truth of the mat­ter is cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment has no ef­fect on the rights of the vic­tims or their fam­i­lies. Th­ese still re­main the same, ir­re­spec­tive of the pun­ish­ment.

States, through­out the world, pro­mote and pro­tect the sanc­tity of hu­man life. If the gov­ern­ment that takes of­fend­ers’ lives, this goes against the ar­gu­ment that hu­man life is sacro­sanct.

Fur­ther­more, my ar­gu­ment that the death penalty will never curb mur­ders in our so­ci­ety, as Ba­sotho, is fur­ther for­ti­fied by this anec­dote, which I of­ten re­peat.

Though scep­tics might ar­gue that it is now an anachro­nism, I reckon it is still as valid to­day as it was more than 200 years ago.

It is tes­ta­ment to our in­nate psy­che as Ba­sotho, in that we are a for­giv­ing peo­ple.

It goes like this: Dur­ing the days of our founder and philoso­pher King, Moshoeshoe I, his grand­fa­ther Peete was eaten by can­ni­bals.

The king in­structed his men to catch the can­ni­bals and bring them to his Court. When they fi­nally caught the cul­prits, con­trary to ev­ery­one’s ex­pec­ta­tion, the king or­dered that cat­tle be slaugh­tered to feed the starv­ing can­ni­bals.

With the cat­tle’s di­gested fod­der or ex­cre­ment, if you ex­cuse my lan­guage, he or­dered that can­ni­bals’ bel­lies be sprin­kled with the di­gested fod­der. With this ges­ture, in­stead of pun­ish­ing them se­verely or or­der­ing them killed like his grand­fa­ther, the king, or­dered that they be re­ha­bil­i­tated.

This yet he knew that, de­spite the enor­mous power at his dis­posal, his grand­fa­ther’s “grave” was in their bel­lies. This story goes to teach our lead­ers that “an eye or an eye, a tooth for a tooth”, re­tribu­tive prin­ci­ple is counter-pro­duc­tive.

You in­still a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity in the cul­prits and give them recog­ni­tion and time to make amends, then they are more than likely not to re-of­fend. One of the big­gest dan­gers with the death penalty, still recog­nised to­day, is the dan­ger that in­no­cent peo­ple would be hanged be­cause of a mis­car­riage of jus­tice.

Even in de­vel­oped and sci­en­tif­i­cally ad­vanced coun­tries where DNA ev­i­dence can iden­tify those re­spon­si­ble for the appalling crime, there has been a marked shift from cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment be­cause of its sheer bru­tal­ity, vi­o­lence and dis­re­gard for the sanc­tity of hu­man life.

It is an even more un­ac­cept­able in less ad­vanced and less de­vel­oped coun­tries like Le­sotho, where DNA test­ing is vir­tu­ally nonex­is­tent. Ev­ery crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem has to have safe­guards against con­vict­ing in­no­cent peo­ple by sheer mis­car­riage of jus­tice. Fur­ther, every­body de­serves a sec­ond chance in life.

Else most of us, in­clud­ing gen­er­ally lawabid­ing cit­i­zens, would in­evitably end-up be­hind bars or fac­ing the gal­lows when a sec­ond chance would have af­forded them an op­por­tu­nity to be re­ha­bil­i­tated and re­form.

I have seen many har­dened crim­i­nals re­form­ing fully from their evil deeds be­cause they have been given a sec­ond chance. The death penalty leaves no room to make amends.

A crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem that in­cludes the death penalty mis­tak­enly and, con­trary to the mod­ern in­ter­na­tional trend and think­ing, moves away from the con­cept of re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion that also forms the ba­sis of mod­ern crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem.

Fur­ther, a crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem should be re­flec­tive of the val­ues and as­pi­ra­tions of the peo­ple it is sup­posed to serve.

Else it has no le­git­i­macy. In this re­gard it was nei­ther in our cul­ture nor our his­tory, as evinced above, to ex­act re­tribu­tive pun­ish­ment on of­fend­ers. The death penalty is noth­ing but a symp­tom of a state ex­act­ing re­venge on its er­rant cit­i­zens.

In the book of Luke 6:39, it is said; “Be mer­ci­ful, just as your fa­ther is mer­ci­ful”. Also in He­brews 10:29, it is said: “for we know him who said, “it is mine to avenge; I will re­pay”.

Prime min­is­ter Thomas Tha­bane

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Lesotho

© PressReader. All rights reserved.