Abolition of the death penalty

Barrister Zafarullah Khan of the Watan Party has filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking the abolition of the death penalty, claiming it was in violation of the constitution. Mr Khan’s claim is not devoid of logic. According to Amnesty International, “The death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights. It is the premeditated and cold-blooded killing of a human being by the state. This cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment is done in the name of justice. It violates the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

The world over there is a debate on the death penalty. Most countries have abolished it as it is seen as a very primitive and retributive kind of justice, more in line with the concept of ‘an eye for an eye’. In the words of Gandhi, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.” Killing someone, whether by an individual or the state, is inhuman, except in self-defence, and that too when unavoidable. There are those who think that in the case of serial killers or those who create mayhem, the death penalty is justified. But then again it can be argued that some people have slipped off the track once but end up paying the price in the form of a death sentence, which is unjust. Instead of arbitrarily cutting off the number of days in their lives, Pakistan needs a prison system that can rehabilitate people so that they can be returned to society as responsible citizens. It must also be noted that Pakistan has a faulty justice system and there is a great possibility of an innocent person being sent to the gallows. The poor people of Pakistan cannot afford to hire lawyers who can defend them adequately, so they are at a disadvantage in any case. We need to reform our faulty and leaky judicial system but since that will take time, facts on the ground suggest that there is a strong case for abolishing the death penalty. In rare cases of treason or waging war against the state, some exceptions can be made even though life imprisonment even in such cases is a more sensible option.

For all the above stated conceptual and practical reasons, Pakistan should consider the abolition of the death penalty. However, there is only so much that the Supreme Court can do. The ball lies in the court of parliament. Legislation to this effect is required, especially since the right to life is interred in our constitution. We need a humane and civilised society, not a primitive one.

(my editorial in Daily Times)


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