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There is no honour in the death penalty


HONG KONG (SE): The death sentence was handed down in New Delhi, India, on October 6 to five people convicted of the murder of a couple who had made a decision to marry outside of their own caste or religious group.

What is referred to in India as honour killing has been dealt with severely by India’s highest courts in recent years.

A statement from the Supreme Court in 2006 says, “There is nothing honourable in such killings and (they) in fact they are nothing but barbaric and shameful acts of murder committed by brutal, feudal minded persons who deserve harsh punishment.”

In 2011, the court made the death penalty mandatory for honour killings saying, “It is time to stamp out these barbaric, feudal practices which are a slur on our nation.”

The statement adds, “All persons who are planning to perpetrate honour killings should know that the gallows await them.”

The court also upheld the death penalty in the last week of August for a Pakistani, Mohammad Ajmal Amir Qasab, the sole surviving member of the group that orchestrated the terror attacks on a hotel in Mumbai.

The Hong Kong-based Asian Centre for the Progress of Peoples is calling on the Indian legal authorities to reflect on their own manner of behaviour in prescribing the death penalty, and ask themselves how their own behaviour differs from the brutal, feudal-minded murders they are condemning.

The Church-affiliated human rights group notes that for the past 12 years India seemed to have made progress in the worldwide movement to abolish the death penalty, as it hanged only two people during that time.

It also notes in a statement released on October 16 that the majority of people languishing on death row can expect their sentences to be commuted to life imprisonment.

The 12th president of the Republic of India, Pratibha Devsingh Patil, commuted 35 death sentences midway through her five-year term and a further 29 clemency cases are currently pending before the president.

In a move that contradicts the hardline adopted by the Supreme Court on honour killings, two months ago, 14 former justices sent separate letters to the current president, Pranab Mukerjee, asking him to use the powers invested in him by article 72 of the constitution and grant clemency to 13 people condemned to death by Indian courts.

The former justices also informed the president that two executions carried out in 1996 and 1997 of Ravji Rao and Surja Ram, both from Rajasthan, saw probably innocent men go to the gallows as they were both convicted in seriously flawed judgments.

The former justices called these the gravest known miscarriages of justice in the history of crime and punishment since the British left the sub-continent.

The Supreme Court has also noted that seven of its previous judgments resulting in the death penalty are flawed by error out of ignorance.

In February 2007, during the World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Paris, the Vatican stated, “The death penalty is not only a refusal of the right to life, but it also is an affront to human dignity.”

In his address to the participants in the Fifteenth Plenary Session of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences on 4 May 2009, Pope Benedict XVI said, “The Second Vatican Council, in the declaration on the Dignity of the Human Person (Dignitatis Humanae), as well as my predecessors Paul VI and John Paul II, forcefully referred to the right to life… as being at the centre of those rights that spring from human nature itself.”

World Day Against Death Penalty was observed on October 10. 

The last decade has seen a significant increase in the number of countries that have officially abolished the death penalty or eliminated the use of the death penalty in practice.

In the last 10 years, 97 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes and for a further 36, although the law remains on the books, it has not been used.

The serious flaws in cases pointed out by the 14 former justices in India are a reawakening to the world.

In considering the death penalty, governments should take a cue from the Supreme Court of India when it says, “There is nothing honourable in such killings.”

The Asian Centre for the Progress of Peoples is encouraging the Indian president to place the value of human life at the centre of all rights that spring from nature.


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