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Death penalty

Is it violation of human rights?

Mohammad Towhidul Islam

Though the modern world is very sympathetic to the concept of human rights issues, death penalty as a form of capital punishment has still been in practice in the world. During 2001, at least 3048 people were executed in 31 countries as well as at least 5265 people were sentenced to death in 68 countries. It is very interesting to see that some advanced countries, which are pioneer to the protection and promotion of human rights and also very vocal to the human rights situation in the developing world, do impose death penalty, even on children.

Death penalty and human rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 has incorporated most of the human rights. It has specially enshrined the protection of the right to life in Article 3. However, Article 29 recognises that human rights and fundamental freedoms are subject to limits. Though it didn't specify clearly, it is presumed that by imposing death penalty, right to life may be curtailed in certain circumstances. The death penalty is the only exception that is mentioned in Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1976.

All rights of man stem from one right, his right to life. Man's right is the first cause of all other rights. It is not axiomatic (self-evident) but it's absolute. The right to life, thus rooted in natural and ethical principles and usually inscribed in a country's constitutional and legal framework. In Criminology the word punishment is used to denote compensation and the offenders have to suffer different punishments depending on the aggravating form of offences. Though right to life is ensured and protected by the way of giving punishment to the wrongdoers, the right to life is curtailed when someone's life is executed under death penalty.

Origin of death penalty

Death penalty as a form of punishment has been used throughout history by different societies. The first death penalty laws came as far as the Eighteen Century BC's in the Code of King Hammaurabi of Babylon, which codified the death penalty for 25 different crimes. The death penalty was also part of the Fourteen Century BC's Hittite Code, the Seventh Century BC's Draconian Code of Athens, which made death penalty for all crimes, and the Fifth Century BC's Roman Law of the Twelve Tablets. Death sent...

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...ence. Once an inmate is executed, nothing can be done to make amends if a mistake has been done. Many of the innocent releases from death row came about as a result of factors outside of the justice system. In other cases, DNA testing has exonerated death row inmates. Here, too, the justice system had concluded that these defendants were guilty and deserving of the death penalty. So it can be said that society takes many risks in which innocent lives are lost.

Concluding remarks

Though we are very far from achieving a worldwide ban on capital punishment, there are certain situations in which the death penalty should be looked upon as a violation of universally accepted international norms. Where the death sentence is imposed on minors, pregnant woman or persons with psychiatric disorder, at odds with internationally recognised norms, it constitutes a human rights violation. Even where a death sentence is carried out in circumstances that are not compatible with internationally accepted procedural norms constitutes a human rights violation. Again, the conditions of detention and the time spent awaiting execution; the death penalty may constitute a violation of human rights.
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