Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Where is the justice?

Bangkok Post: Tuesday February 28, 2006
Court upholds Pipat's sentence

The Supreme Court yesterday upheld a two-year suspended jail sentence handed down by a lower court on a university lecturer whose attack on his wife led to her death in 2001.
Pipat Lueprasithsakul was found guilty of physically assaulting his wife in 2001 following a heated row, causing her to suffer fatal
Shortly after the attack, Pipat, who was employed by the National Institute of Development Administration (Nida), fled to Laos and Vietnam. He turned himself in three months later to face the charges against him.
The court ruled in 2002 that Pipat receive a two-year suspended sentence on three years parole on the condition he carry out 50 hours of community service by teaching at an educational institution. The verdict drew widespread criticism. Prosecutors acting on behalf of the victim's family chose to appeal the sentence in the same year.
The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that Pipat, 47, did not intend to kill his wife, but was overcome with anger after discovering that she had gone out to meet an ex-boyfriend. The court said Pipat ought to get a lenient sentence because he had confessed to the crime all along. It was felt he should also get the chance for rehabilitation and the opportunity to raise his children.
Mr Pipat, now a guest lecturer at Rangsit University, was delighted by the decision.
Pipat said he had completed 50 hours community service by giving lectures at the Naval Medical Department and spending 40 hours teaching children affected by the Dec 26, 2004 tsunami.
Women's rights activist Ticha na Nakhon said she feared the case would be detrimental in dealing with cases of domestic violence. The Women's and Constitution Network would hold a seminar on the ruling so the public could learn about the legal aspects of domestic violence.

In campaigning against the death penalty we in no way deny the justice of proportionate punishment against those who kill another person.Teaching at an educational institution is an honourable profession. 50 hours of teaching would be a normal workload of one month for a staff member in a college or university.
Where is the balance of justice which weighs such a task against the vicious beating to death of a wife, which no extenuating circumstance can condone. A one month teaching load cannot pay the debt to society created by such a crime. Our campaign against the death penalty is based on an inalienable respect for the value of human life. The same respect for human life demands proportionate punishment for one who deprives another of life.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Respect life, abolish the death penalty

Published on Feb 6, 2006 , Nation newspaper
On January 1, a visiting Welsh student was raped and murdered on Koh Samui. When two fishermen were arrested for this horrendous crime, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra proclaimed that those convicted “must be sentenced to the harshest possible punishment”, affirming that the execution would “give remedy to the relatives and the British Government”. He appeared unaware that the UK Government has absolutely rejected the death penalty. The mother of the murdered girl has also expressed opposition to the execution of the murderers. There remains the primary reason cited by Thaksin, that the guilty had “caused serious damage to our country’s reputation”, again unaware that their execution would return Thailand to the minority of nations practising this barbaric punishment. It is time to review and question the inevitability of the death penalty.

These are the objections to the death penalty:

No human being or group of human beings can arrogate the right to put another human being to death, for whatever reason. Life is the basic right of every man, woman, and child and it cannot be denied them. Execution in any form is inhuman and cruel.

Secondly, innocent people are sometimes executed and there is no redress. Advances in forensic medicine reveal more and more cases of wrongful sentencing. There are cases where the person condemned and executed was indeed guilty of murder, but glaring extenuating circumstances were such that the sentence of execution should never have been passed.

Thirdly, the argument that execution is a necessary deterrent to heinous crimes is not supported by empirical evidence. Changes in crime rates follow complex social laws but this much is clear: countries that abolish the death penalty do not experience a sudden rise in their murder rates, and over the long term these rates may register either an increase or a decrease.

Fourthly, it is held that the death penalty is necessary to give satisfaction to the family of the victim, as if vengeance should be satisfied with payment of a blood debt, as if the sad arithmetic of adding minus one to minus one sums to zero. Satisfaction and closure to help heal the sorrow are necessary. Justice must be done and a penalty imposed. A punishment that can and sometimes does lead to the reform of the culprit, leads, in the long run, to greater consolation for the bereaved.

The question of cost is raised; it is said that to execute a criminal is cheaper than to detain him indefinitely. Adolf Hitler followed the same reasoning in ordering the elimination of institutionalised defective children. Is there an economic measure for the value of a human life? When all the safeguards of right of appeal and the costs of “humane” execution are added up, continued detention may not be more expensive. If into the balance is thrown the benefit to society of the reformed criminal or, even more, the reprieved innocent, where does the economic argument stand?

The realisation has slowly dawned that we may not kill, even in retribution for those who killed others. The first to legislate this realisation was the State of Tuscany in 1786. Venezuela became the first modern state to reject the death penalty. Today more than half of the world’s nations have abolished capital punishment. The stance of countries with a liberal democratic regime is significant. We do not expect Iran or China to set standards for worldwide morality! The matter becomes clearer when we list the countries with the highest rates of execution:

Highest Rates of Execution in 2004

China: at least 5000
Iran: 197
Vietnam: at least 82
United States: 59
North Korea: scores
Saudi Arabia: at least 38
Pakistan: at least 29

How has it come about that the United States is listed among the most reactionary countries of the world when it comes to capital punishment? While the majority of countries have followed humanitarian ideals through to the abolition of capital punishment, the United States remains locked in an outlook of religious fundamentalism and authoritarianism. There is parity between the current adversaries, fundamentalist Muslims and fundamentalist Americans.

The UN is the supreme voice of all nations on earth. In the Second Protocol to the Convention of Civil and Political Rights it proposes a solemn commitment: “Abolition of the death penalty contributes to enhancement of human dignity and progressive development of human rights...all measures of abolition of the death penalty should be considered as progress in the enjoyment of the right of life.” The commitment must be total: “No one within the jurisdiction of a state party to the present protocol shall be executed.”

Many countries still believe that their country faces particular circumstances, which dictate that the law must be imposed with the ultimate sanction of death. For such countries, and Thailand is one of their number, there is an alternative. Apply a moratorium on executions, whether by decree or de facto, and see from what [happens] whether these fears were justified.

In Thailand, the last execution took place in December 2003. However, the number of people under sentence of death tripled to nearly 1000 last year, mostly on charges relating to drug trafficking. The United Nations Human Rights Commission is concerned about the issue of the death penalty in Thailand, asserting that offences related to drug trafficking are not included in the category of “most serious crimes” for which the imposition of the death penalty might be acceptable. The conditions of imprisonment were also criticised and an order was given – by virtue of a legal treaty, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, signed by Thailand – to “stop immediately” the shackling of prisoners condemned to death.

As noted above, in Thailand there have been no executions since December 2003. The Union for Civil Liberties proposes the extension of this apparent moratorium to a period of ten years, which would thereby accord Thailand the status of a de facto abolitionist country. One may hope that the outcome will allow our people to realise that another way is possible and become willing to accede to the Second Optional Protocol. Thailand already offers an example of a democratic way. The freedom of its people may be further enhanced by affirming an inviolable respect for life and abolishing the death penalty.

Danthong Breen
The Nation
Danthong Breen is president of the Union for Civil Liberty, Bangkok.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Capital Punishment Defies Teachings of the Buddha

Response to Interview with Somsri Hananuntasuk
Re: “‘Execution is not the answer’,” Nation News, January 30.
Kudos to Somsri Hananuntasuk for her compassion and moral courage in publicly opposing capital punishment. Such courage is rare in Thailand. The death penalty is an atavistic barbarity grounded in the vengeful law of lex talionis (an eye for an eye). It has no place in a civilised society and never in a nation based on Buddha’s principle of respect for all human life. Gautama Siddharta rejected it. So did Yeshua.
The deterrent argument is an obnoxious rationalisation, since overwhelming research and statistics have revealed that capital punishment does not deter the deliberate killing of another person. Even if it did, it should be abolished as inhumane. For the state to kill its citizens for crimes like rape and drug trafficking is beyond the pale. What’s next? Economic crimes like graft and corruption? Thailand would have an execution a week.
Even more astounding is that Buddhist monks support it, and those who do not are too craven to speak out against it. Shame! Why are they Buddhist monks? Somsri is more a true Buddhist than they will ever be. Bless her. She has my unreserved admiration.
OG Pamp
Prachuap Khiri Khan