The death penalty should have no place in the 21st century
Imposing punishments like the death penalty infringes one of the most basic principles of human rights -- the “right to life” provision. An eradication of such harsh punishment is imperative, in order to uphold the fundamental rights of human beings in the modern era.
Amnesty International unfolds a record of at least 2,591 death sentences in 53 countries in 2017, a significant decrease from the record-high of 3,117 recorded in 2016. Bangladesh falls among the top four countries for imposing death sentences in the year 2017 -- the courts of the country have sentenced more than 275 people to death, with six executed, as per the Death Sentences and Executions Report 2017.
However, the global decrease demonstrates a trend towards the abolition of the death penalty.
Among the first world countries, the United States, through Article 4 of the American Convention on Human Rights, recognizes the right to life, and limits the imposition of the death penalty.
It illustrates that everyone has the inalienable right to respect for his life, a right that cannot be adjourned for any reason. The death penalty sanction has irrevocable consequences, forecloses the correction of judicial error, and lures lesser possibility of changing those convicted. In a modern context, the tendency among the states is to be in favour of abolition of the death penalty, as per Amnesty International statistics.
Europe has always been a de-facto death penalty free zone since 1997. In 2002, the Council of Europe adopted Protocol 13 to the European Court of Human Rights regarding the abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances, including in time of war, or of imminent threat of war. Such attitude of the abolition of the death penalty helps to ensure more effective protection of the right to life.
Article 31 of The Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh affords that no action detrimental to the life, liberty, body of any person shall be taken except in accordance with law. Article 32 of the constitution states that no person shall be deprived of life or personal liberty. There lies a discrepancy, as the notion “no action detrimental to the life except in accordance with law” itself renders the same fundamental right to life protection the constitution entails.
The High Court of Bangladesh is of the view that the country is still not in the position to abolish death penalty, as the criminal justice system has no specific provision to reduce the death sentence by justifying circumstances as the rights of the offender. In practice though, the judges have power to determine the punishment for the offender. Therefore, a guideline on what and how the sentencing system should be applied is highly recommended.
The United Nation General Assembly constantly urges its member states to respect international principles of human rights while sanctioning an offender with death penalty. Mandates to minimize the use of death penalty, and lessen the number of offenses which are punishable by death continue to be put forth -- the execution breaches fundamental human rights.
Bangladesh, as per Article 25 of the constitution, connotes to base its international relations on the principles of respect for international law, and the principles enunciated in the United Nations Charter.
In addition, the constitution also recognizes humanitarian law, and provides that the constitution shall not limit the application of international treaties, and the laws of war as per Article 47.
In Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust vs Bangladesh, the country’s highest court invalidated the mandatory death penalty for a specific form of aggravated murder, thereby approving a broad Commonwealth consensus that the mandatory death penalty constitutes cruel and degrading punishment, citing jurisprudence from the United States.
Even the Appellate Division of the Bangladesh Supreme Court expressed the view of mandatory death punishment in regard to certain crimes to be unconstitutional.
Although there lies discouragement of our judiciary in terms of imposing death penalty, the report of the Amnesty International elucidates a different view altogether. Since the International Crimes Tribunal’s inauguration in March 25, 2010, the tribunals have delivered judgment in 34 cases against 83 war criminals. Among them, 52 were sentenced to death.
Therefore, in order to extinguish such degrading inhumane punishment, the two most important organs, the legislature and judiciary of Bangladesh, need to adopt proper guidelines for sentencing in order to preserve basic fundamental human rights.
In order for Bangladesh to be in sync with the modern world, the country should resort to alternative ways to prevent crimes, than imposing punishments like the death penalty. As a matter of fact, to deny people their basic human rights is to challenge their very humanity.
Al Amin Rahman is an Advocate, Bangladesh Supreme Court.