US resumes death penalty: morally unacceptable

Last week, the US government announced it will resume use of capital punishment after a 16-year hiatus and has set execution dates for five convicted murderers.

This is a response to President Donald Trump’s call for tougher penalties on violent crimes.

As a consequence, Attorney General Barr directed the Federal Bureau of Prisons to adopt a new lethal injection protocol to clear the way to carry out death sentences.

The Attorney General allowed the prison authorities to use the single drug Pentobarbital in place of a three-drug procedure previously used in federal executions.

The drug is a potent sedative that slows down the body, including the nervous system, to the point of death.

The execution is scheduled to apply to five convicted notorious criminals, who committed murder cases in various US States.

The executions have been scheduled for December 2019 and January 2020.

The US is one of the developed countries, purportedly claiming to be a human rights model, which applies the death penalty.

Historically, the death penalty was outlawed at state and federal level by a 1972 Supreme Court decision that cancelled all existing death penalty statutes.

But in 1976, the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty to a number of states.

As a result, there was a clamour for legislation that would allow again the death penalty available at a federal level.

In 1994, the US Congress adopted the ‘Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994’, crystallising the earlier Supreme Court Decision reinstating the penalty.

Unlike other Western democracies, the US remains number one country that most famously positions itself as a role model of observing human rights, or human values, and the principles of democracy that hasn’t abolished the death penalty.

Paradoxically, the USA has the most critic human rights groups, most notably Human Rights Watch, but why not campaigning to abolish the death penalty in their homeland.

In fact, Human Rights Watch has been at the forefront of demonising many countries around the world of poor human rights record.

But, why not using the same aggressive style to the USA to outlaw the death penalty, the worst denial of the right to life? 

For more than a decade ago, Rwanda, for example, outlawed the death penalty. Therefore, it now acts as a role model to the respect of human values.

In its several reports, Human Rights Watch criticized Rwanda of poor human rights record. This time round they can now change the narrative to commend Rwanda for the abolition of death penalty.

This is the worst form of punishment, which shocks human conscience, applicable in American legal system.  

It’s true to say Americans have always been idealistic people. They set high standards for themselves, but they don’t hold firmly to ideals that they believe are true, important, and desirable. If they preach what they don’t truly believe in. Indeed, they don’t always live up to these ideals, or core values.

A question mark, once again, hangs over the Human Rights Watch. Why not   galvanizing action into outlawing the death penalty?  In any case, the campaign for respect of human rights needs to start from their home country?   

It’s interesting to note that USA has consistently, by its spontaneously influential role, ensured that most countries outlaw death penalty.

It, equally, successfully influenced the adoption of all Statutes of International ad hoc tribunals, except the Nuremberg trials, not to incorporate the death penalty. Looking at various Statutes of international ad hoc criminal tribunals, the maximum sentence is life imprisonment.

Likewise, it’s important to articulate that the preceding Statutes were adopted in accordance with a UN-sponsored Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty is a side agreement to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

It was created on 15 December 1989 and entered into force on 11 July 1991.

However, majority of the countries, including the USA, have not yet ratified it, but nevertheless they abolished the death penalty.

By 2017, 142 countries had abolished the death penalty in law or practice, leaving 56 countries still using capital punishment. There were at least 993 recorded executions in 23 countries, with more than 20,000 people on death row. Some 84% of all recorded executions in 2017 took place in four countries: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan.

Surprisingly, there’s a strong resistance to abolishing the death penalty in Asia, the Arab World and the US. However, a good number of African countries have abolished capital punishment or operate moratoriums.

Unlike the US, all EU countries have abolished the death penalty in line with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The writer is a law expert.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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