UCL welcomes the following Editorial Opinion in the Bangkok Post
Death to the death penalty
Published: 22/09/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News
Late last month, on a quiet Monday afternoon, warders locked down Bang Khwang prison and prepared for two executions. A pair of convicted drug dealers, Bundit Charoenwanich, 45, and Jirawat Phumpruek, 52, were given one hour to contact their families, eat a last meal and make their peace in this world. Then they were taken to the execution room and injected with a series of drugs, the last of which ended their lives.
It was the first time in six years that authorities had ordered an actual execution. They should be the last such prisoners to die by execution. It is time that Parliament and the government end all use of the death penalty.
There are several problems with judicial executions, and no acceptable advantage. Carrying out a death sentence always risks the chance of killing the wrong person. Police, prosecutors and courts are dedicated and efficient, but not infallible. There have been plenty of wrongful convictions over the decades of Thai justice. If even one death sentence is wrongfully carried out, the death would be on the conscience of the nation. A wrongful conviction already takes months or years from an innocent person's life. Nothing could be worse than taking his or her life.
The main reason to abolish the death penalty for terrible crimes is that it brings no true result. Justice and punishment, in the form of imprisonment, parole or work programmes, are meant to prevent further crime. To an extent, they work. While many criminals continue their ways after release, others "go straight" so that they can live freely, without worry about being imprisoned. Crimes are prevented daily by the presence of police and the courts, as would-be robbers, speeders, thieves and others stick to the law in order to avoid punishment.
Study after study over the past 50 years has proved that the death sentence is no deterrent to the terrible crimes it punishes, such as drug trafficking, premeditated murder, violent and sexual abuse of children. While proponents of the death penalty argue facetiously that execution will assure that such criminals do not carry out their acts again, there are many ways to assure that. Indeed, no rational person would accept the end of the death penalty without parallel assurances that such violent acts against society can be punished by true life imprisonment, without early release.
Abolishing the death penalty in Thailand will be an unpopular act by the government, without doubt. Even in advanced Western countries, the majority of citizens always have opposed the abolition of the ultimate penalty. Yet such abolition around the world, from Canada to Cambodia, and from Austria to Australia, has never caused an upsurge of any kind in capital crimes. If anything, the threat of lengthy, even lifetime incarceration seems to be a greater deterrent than the former death penalty. Indeed, in recent cases in the United States, federal prisoners in so-called Supermax prisons have sued the government against their lifetime sentences under harsh, maximum security rules.
The only remaining argument in favour - that it provides an emotional release of sorts for victims and a horrified public - is unacceptable. Justice is not a form of vengeance, like some feel-good ending to a movie. Law and punishment are serious matters.
Last year, a majority of the United Nations General Assembly voted for the first time to oppose the death penalty. For now, the government should order a true moratorium banning more executions, pending a rewrite of the criminal code to ban the death penalty altogether.