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Death Penalty - Is It Violation of Human Rights?

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June 29, 2003


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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 sentences were carried out by such means as crucifixion, beating to death, burning alive and impalement.

During the 10th Century AD, hanging became the usual method of execution in Britain .In the following century; William the Conqueror allowed hanging in times of war. This trend would not last, for in the Sixteenth Century, under the reign of Henry VIII, as many as 72,000 people are estimated to have been executed. Executions were held for such capital offences as marrying a Jew, not confessing to a crime, and treason. By the 1700s, 222 crimes were punishable by death in Britain, including stealing, cutting down a tree, and robbing a rabbit warren. Because of the severity of the punishment of death, many juries wouldn't convict defendants if the offence was not serious. This led to reforms of Britain's death penalty. From 1823 to 1837, the death penalty was eliminated for over 100 of the 222 crimes punishable by death.

Britain influenced America's use of the death penalty more than any other country did. The first recorded execution in the new colonies was that of Captain George Kendall in the Jamestown colony of Virginia in 1608. Kendall was executed for being a spy for Spain. In 1612,Virginia Governor Sir Thomas Dale enacted the Divine, Moral and Martial Laws, which provided the death penalty for even minor offences such as stealing grapes, killing chickens, and trading with Indians.

Social argument

It is thinks that death penalty prevents future murderers and the society has always used punishment to discourage future criminals from wrongdoing. As the society has the highest interest in preventing murder,



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