On killing the killers

Like Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, I have nothing but contempt for the Bali bombers, but I don’t support state-sanctioned murder. I therefore welcome his announcement today that Australia would in the near future sponsor a resolution in the United Nations General Assembly calling for a moratorium on capital punishment.

On the other hand, the announcement does raise a couple of pertinent questions. Firstly, was it a calculated decision for Smith to make this announcement immediately after the executions, rather than beforehand? Could it be that Smith was concerned about the political consequences if his anti-capital punishment stance happened to result in a stay of execution for the Bali three? The only credible moral stance opposing capital punishment is to condemn it in all circumstances, at all relevant intervals. It is hardly a convincing moral stance for Australia to strongly oppose capital punishment when it comes to their own sons and daughters or when politically convenient, but to support it otherwise.

Secondly, is it realistic to think that another call for an international moratorium on capital punishment in the UN General Assembly is going to achieve anything, given how many countries still support it? A similar moratorium to the one that Smith describes was passed in the UN General Assembly in 2007 – a historic occasion to be sure, but it is unclear what the next progressive step forward is on this issue. 104 nations supported last year’s non-binding resolution, with 54 nations opposing. The nations that did oppose the resolution pretty much all fall outside of what John Howard would probably term the judeo-christian tradition (e.g. the United States being the main glaring exception), so one wonders whether there is a cultural aspect to this issue that the world’s more “western” nations need to find a way to overcome. It’s probably worth listing out, once again, the company that the United States keeps on this issue by continuing to support capital punishment:

Afghanistan, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Botswana, Brunei Darussalam, Chad, China, Comoros, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Dominica, Egypt, Ethiopia, Grenada, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Qatar, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Sudan, Suriname, Syria, Thailand, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, United States, Yemen, Zimbabwe.

I wonder what Barack Obama’s thoughts are on his nation’s membership of this exclusive club of forward-thinkers.

This year Amnesty International has already announced it is seeking a reiteration of the moratorium, and makes the case against capital punishment in a quite compelling fashion here. They note that 60 countries still have capital punishment enshrined within their legal system, with 24 of these countries actually conducting acts of capital punishment in 2007. At least 1252 people were executed by these countries last year.

Unfortunately we don’t have statistics on how many of these 1252 people executed were innocent, or else now truly understand the grievous error of their ways. We also don’t have statistics on the number of relatives and friends of the executed who have also been emotionally punished, through no fault of their own.

2 thoughts on “On killing the killers

  1. It is possible to get an idea of the percentage of innocent people executed within a jurisdiction some years ago before DNA analysis became so powerful if there is DNA evidence still held. For the US, and particularly for blacks, there is a worryingly high percentage of people “cleared” by DNA evidence long after they were executed.

    I’m all for jailing them, making them look at photos of victims and grieving families, and giving the criminal the OPTION of being killed by any means that takes their fancy when either the guilt sinks in, or the long time in prison gets too much.

    China’s use of executions is particularly worrying: but at least corrupt officials white collar criminals are just as likely to get the ultimate sanction as petty criminals.

  2. I guess when you start making capital punishment optional for prisoners serving life sentences, you essentially convert the capital punishment debate into a euthanasia debate. In Australia at least, it would seem that we have done the hard yards on capital punishment and abolished it, but not yet enough hard yards on euthanasia.

    I still don’t see why it is okay for someone who wants to kill themselves to ram their car into a wall or load up on a cocktail of dangerous drugs, but not okay for the government to facilitate a controlled, regulated and ultimately safe suicide if that is what the person involved really wants.

    Columns like this one from Paul Sheehan don’t really assist very much. Sheehan seems to be confusing the capital punishment debate with the war on terror and describes Australia’s views on capital punishment as a form of “missionary condescension”. Actually its arguably a matter of basic human rights (e.g. Articles 3 and 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). I don’t see a problem with Australia occasionally lecturing other countries if they are lecturing in support of a position that the majority of the world’s civilised countries support, quite frankly. In part this is how that little thing called progress can be slowly made.

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