The death penalty combined with unfair trials is a hallmark of the justice system in far too many countries in the Asia-Pacific region, with 14 countries executing more people than all the rest of the world combined.
Those 14 countries – including China, Pakistan, India and Japan – cover 95 per cent of the region’s population, though just a minority of the 41 countries. (India hasn’t executed anyone since 2004, but nearly 400 people are believed to be on death row.)
A report from an anti-death-penalty group in Asia makes for bleak reading. Forced confessions are a regular feature of death-penalty cases in Afghanistan, China, Japan, India and Indonesia, says the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network, which formed in 2006, with civil-society members in 23 countries. A confession may produce a conviction and a death sentence even in the absence of other evidence. Access to lawyers is spotty and in some countries it is not even possible to appeal a death sentence or conviction.
The positive news is that, while the number of abolitionist countries, at 17, is small, another nine countries have not executed anyone for at least a decade, joining an international trend against the death penalty. Singapore, once the world’s per-capita leader in executions, did not execute anyone in 2010, and just 14 in the previous three years, according to government figures. But two countries, Thailand and Taiwan, have gone back on their stated goals of abolition.
The death penalty is barbaric at the best of times; but when it is applied in an unfair justice system in which the right to counsel barely exists, in which the judiciary is not independent from government, in which torture is rife, the innocent are at high risk of being put to death. It is a stain on any country in which it exists, and on the region as a whole.
Clearly the United Nations needs to study and make public the information it uncovers on this file.
Death penalties, for forced confessions or not, help to create a culture in which human life and human dignity, and the potential for rehabilitation, and thereby redemption, are less than significant values in a national culture.
- It is not only the risk of falsely accused being executed;
- It is not only the demonstrable failures of both commission and of ommission by the justice systems that administer the criminal code;
- It is even more importantly a signal of the abuse of power by the state through the execution of select criminals, and
- It is also the inescapable fact that the death penalty does not deter others from murder and
- It is also the demonstrable fact that the way we treat the most "abject" of our citizens is an index of the kind of culture we choose to create and to live in...
Recently, I was involved in a conversation with another North American male, white, retired and quite articulate. The conversation, at the moment in question, revolved around the federal government's omnibus crime bill and the need for the provinces to absorb the increased costs, without having so much as a single opportunity for legitimate imput into the decision.
The colleague, surprisingly, wanted me to be aware of the following piece of information, that seemed to govern his perception of the issue:
"Well, everyone knows it is true that approximately 1-2% of the population is criminal, and deserves to be in prison; so what's the problem?"
I was so stunned with the observation that I was unable, and ill-equipped to respond. Such a reduction of the human source of criminality to a base of 1-2% of the total population was so ridiculous and so preposterous as to be laughable, if it were not so naive and unworthy of rebuttal.
Criminality, as most responsible research demonstrates, is a potential of most human beings. The conditions and the circumstances and the right moment of passion, loss of control, jealousy, or whatever human motivation, whether conscious or unconscious, have to align themselves in order to result in a criminal event, including murder.
And to seek to achieve the abolishing of the death penalty in all countries is not the same as being "soft on crime" as is the charge against most liberals by most conservatives who favour the death penalty.
However, if 14 countries execute more people than the rest of the world combined, that group of countries merits the spotlight of "a thumbs down" for their negative achievement in this field. We can be quite confident that some countries like Russia and Iran, for example, are unlikely ever to abandon the death penalty. We can, however, continue to work with others, in a collaborative effort, to convince other countries still ensnared in the practice, to consider the positive implications of its abandonment.And the sooner, the better.
Fear of rising crime rates, not a statistically justified reason to retain the death penalty, can no longer be accepted as a state's motivation for retention.