Abolishing Death Penalty: Consistent with Path of Reform




Every year on October 10, many people around the world mark the World Day Against the Death Penalty. Encouragingly, over the past half century we have seen an enormous positive shift in global views on the death penalty.

Amnesty International has noted that four decades ago not one country in Sub-Saharan Africa had abolished the death penalty. Now some twenty countries have done as such. Africa is leading the way.

Thus far, 2018 has been a year of unprecedented change for Ethiopia. Thousands of prisoners have been released, once exiled dissidents have returned home, and peace was forged with Eritrea. Moving to relegate capital punishment to the past, would be another important step forward for Ethiopia on its unique path of reform.

While executions may not be common in Ethiopia, the death penalty is still retained under Ethiopia’s law. While it is positive that death sentences are rarely carried out in Ethiopia, it is important that Ethiopia now take the next logical step and abolish the death sentence altogether.

Now under the leadership of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD), it is an opportune moment for Ethiopia to re-evaluate its stance on the death penalty and adopt one more reform consistent with the country’s current trajectory.

Australia believes the death penalty is flawed in many profound ways. A key argument for the retention of the death penalty that is often cited is that it deters crime. But there is no conclusive evidence to support this assertion. In fact, the experience of many countries makes clear that the death penalty has no impact on levels of crime.

For instance, in Australia’s own experience, the murder rate in Australia has actually fallen since the last executions for murder in the 1960s. In some countries, drug trafficking remains an acute problem, despite those countries executing hundreds of people for drug-related offences every year.

In a study comparing Singapore, which employs the death penalty, and Hong Kong, which does not, homicide levels and trends were remarkably similar. Despite Singapore dramatically increasing executions in 1994 and 1995, the rate of murder over that period fell at the same rate as in Hong Kong, which abolished the death penalty in 1993.

Australia believes that likely capture may be a more effective deterrent than potential death, and that suitably long prison sentences are an appropriate and effective alternative to capital punishment.

Another profound problem with the death penalty is that it assumes that judicial systems are flawless. No justice system in the world is safe from judicial error and innocent people are likely to be sentenced to death.

Throughout history and across the world, there are many examples of people executed for crimes they did not commit. In the United States, since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, more than 100 people on death row have been exonerated using fresh evidence. Any miscarriage or failure of justice in the implementation of the death penalty is irreversible and irreparable. It cannot be undone.

Globally, the death penalty is also deeply unfair and affects the most disadvantaged members of society. It is used disproportionately against the poor, people with intellectual disabilities and minority groups. Studies conducted in two Asian countries showed that over 70pc of those on death row were from the most economically vulnerable sections of society.

I call on Ethiopia to consider signing the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights – a key multilateral treaty that recognises the inherent dignity of all people. Signing and ratifying the Second Optional Protocol and then implementing it in domestic legislation would be a strong statement to the world of Ethiopia’s commitment to human rights.

The death penalty is in decline globally with only 25 states still actively carrying out executions, compared to 39 states just 22 years ago. One hundred and forty-one countries worldwide, more than two-thirds of the countries in theworld, are now abolitionist in law or practice.

Importantly, the experience of other countries has shown that public opinion is rarely in favour of abolishing the death penalty before it occurs. Abolition requires courageous and forward thinking political leadership.

The death penalty has no place in the modern world and I hope Ethiopia might be able to join the growing number of states that are consigning it to the history books.

 



By Mark Sawers
Mark is the Australian Ambassador to the Central African Republic, Djibouti, Ethiopia and South Sudan and Permanent Representative to the African Union, the UN Economic Commission for Africa and the Intergovernmental Authority for Development.

Published on Oct 13,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 963]


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