For many, Amnesty International’s total opposition to the death penalty may seem like one of its more controversial stances and there are some in the UK who argue that steps should be taken to reinstate it here rather than seeking its abolition elsewhere.
I, however do not believe any of these arguments to be adequate. Firstly, while it may be true that the death penalty leads to fewer criminals re-offending, this does not justify its use. There are of course criminals who are not executed but nevertheless do not re-offend after they have served out their prison sentences, yet in other nations these people may have been considered for the death penalty. To have executed them would have been to stamp out their life and future just in case they might commit crimes again.
The death penalty is irrevocable and as such must be opposed if only for the sake of the innocent, victims of miscarriages of justice. New evidence can be obtained that clears supposed criminals and in the cases of those imprisoned they can be immediately released. This is of course impossible in the case of those executed. One example is that of Nie Shubin, a farmer from North China. He was executed in 1995 for the rape and murder of a local woman, a crime that was later confessed to by another man. Judicial authorities admitted their mistake. The death penalty can do irreparable damage to innocent people and their families and in some cases it follows unfair trials or confessions obtained through torture.
I believe the death penalty should be rejected even in the case of the guilty, as a violation of the right to life and as the ultimate display of contempt. To sentence a person to death is essentially to judge that there is nothing about them that could make them worth saving. Nobody is in a position to make such a judgement.
I do not mean to undermine the seriousness of the many terrible crimes that are committed nor to suggest that their perpetrators be treated lightly, I only ask that life imprisonment be employed instead of the death penalty and that these people be given time either to establish their innocence or to come to terms with their guilt. Most of the people in question are indeed vile people, but they are still people.
By David Toze