Wednesday, June 20, 2007

This Horrendous Practice

This website is primarily concerned with the issue of the death penalty in Thailand. However the world is one, and what happens elsewhere affects thinking and decisions made in our country. At present three examples of the barbaric practice of Capital Punishment are pending. We list them as examples of the horrendous practice of the death sentence. In these three cases UCL will make strong protest to the countries concerned. Those who wish to follow our example can easily find avenues to submit protests.

1. Iran
A man and a woman are condemned to death by public stoning on Thursday 21st June, in Takistan, Ghagrin, on a charge of adultery . Both have been in prison since sentencing 11 years ago. The judge who passed sentence will throw the first stone and posters will invite the public to participate.

An Iranian source informs us that this sentence has been canceled

Meanwhile a Sri Lankan girl awaits beheading in Saudi Arabia while the Sri Lankan government hesitates to engage Saudi lawyers to launch an appeal to save her.

SAUDI ARABIA Rizana Nafeek (f), aged 19, Sri Lankan national

Domestic worker Rizana Nafeek was sentenced to death on 16 June for a murder committed while she was 17 years old. Saudi Arabia is a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which expressly prohibits the execution of offenders for crimes committed when they were under 18 years old. Rizana Nafeek is believed to have appealed against her sentence, but if her appeal is unsuccessful she could be executed within days.

She was arrested in May 2005 in Jeddah on charges of murdering an infant in her care. She had no access to lawyers either during interrogation or at her trial and was believed to have confessed to the murder during police questioning. She has since retracted her confession.

She apparently told the authorities that she was born in February 1988, but they seem to have ignored this on the basis that her passport indicated that she was born in February 1982. According to information available to Amnesty International no medical examination is believed to have been carried out to ascertain her age, nor was she given the opportunity to present her birth certificate, which reportedly shows that she was born in 1988.

2. Pakistan
Younis Masih, a Pakistani Christian was sentenced to death for blasphemy on May 30th. The case arose from an event on 9th September last when Younis went at midnight to protest the loud singing during a religious ceremony in a house near his Lahore home. Trial and sentence followed a complaint lodged by the Muslim cleric who led the service. An attempt has been made on the life of the lawyer, Pervez Aslam Choudhury, who acted for the defense of Younis.
3. Libya (17th July: The death penalty has been commuted to life imprisonment in this case)

PARIS, Tuesday, July 24 (AP) — Five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor sentenced to life in prison in Libya for allegedly contaminating children with the AIDS virus left Tripoli on Tuesday on board a plane with the French president’s wife, France’s presidential palace said.
The plane was heading to Bulgaria, the Elysée Palace said.

In the case of the six Bulgarian medical personnel charged with deliberate injection of the AIDS virus of 438 infants in 1998 , as reported in an earlier posting, the Supreme Court Attorney has requested confirmation of the death sentence by firing squad. Probably the Supreme Court will uphold the sentence, but a compensation deal would override the Court's decision. (12th July. The Supreme Court has indeed upheld the sentence. It was earlier reported that a compensation deal was accepted by the parents of the infected children) One of the condemned, a doctor of Palestinian origin who is now a naturalised Bulgarian, confessed to the crime under torture. However, top AIDS experts have exonerated the group affirming that AIDS infection was already prevalent in the children's hospital due to poor hygiene before the arrival of the Bulgarian medical team. After more than eight years of imprisonment and sentence to death the medical team are severely traumatised.
The three cases illustrate that all cases involving the death penalty are horrendous, whether in Iran, Pakistan, Libya, or Bangkwang prison, Bangkok.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

'Studies spark fresh death-penalty debate'

An article from Associated Press on a renewed death-penalty debate, in the Nation of June 16, alludes to recent research which claims that between 3 and 18 lives would be saved by the execution of each convicted killer. This is a curious statement. The death penalty and the sociology of crime are very complex questions which do not lead to simple conclusions. An investigation resulting in a numerical conclusion which ranges over a factor of 6 indicates a huge imprecision and complexity.

This is indeed the case in the present studies, where the equation used to predict the homicide rate contains six different factors which would influence the total. However, when we examine the data used as input for these factors we find that the variation, standard deviation or, in simple terms, error, is 3 to 4 times greater than the data figure itself. This is particularly true of the execution rate which is considered the crucial factor in deterring homicide. There is no doubt that such studies are of interest and indicate paths to combat homicide. But an author quoted in the Associated Press article warns at the conclusion that ‘a stand for or against capital punishment should be taken with caution’ (Naci Mocan)

One must go further and assert that the conclusions of the article should not influence at all a stand for or against capital punishment. The pivotal article of Mocan referred to above begins with the words ‘Empirical studies of the economics of crime have established credible evidence regarding the impact of sanctions on criminal activity’. The study is an empirical study in the economics of crime. The decision to abolish the death penalty is a moral decision which recognises the inviolability of human life. Capital punishment is no longer an option as a deterrent against crime, as is now recognised in the majority of the world’s nations and by the moral leadership of the UN. To make the argument clear, we might agree that the public stoning to death of an adulterous woman might be a most effective deterrent to adultery, or the amputation of one or both hands be a powerful deterrent of theft. But no amount of juggling with figures from the economics of crime would make such barbaric punishment acceptable in civilised countries.

What then are we to make of the studies on Mocan and his fellow economists? The studies are indeed useful. If we omit from his equation the variables relating to execution and insert variables which include crime rates such as lack of education, alcoholism, and poverty etc. we have a most useful tool to compensate any increase in homicide rate that might arise from a decrease in deterrence. This kind of study is of course the product of US culture where economic thinking dominates any other, and where the loss of human life is considered a collateral issue, an unavoidable cost to be tolerated in national and foreign affairs. I believe that the study in its present form would not be applicable in a society where the free availability of firearms did not facilitate the commission of murder. The methodology of the study is also too coarse a tool to estimate the long term cultural change brought about by the increase in respect for life which inevitably results from abolition of the death penalty. In terms of use of the death penalty, the US remains in the company of China, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, pariah states where respect for human rights can hardly flourish when the most basic right of all is not guaranteed.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Change in Draft Constitution favours abolition in Thailand

Charter drafters pave way for end to death penalty

The Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA) yesterday decided to remove the expression "death penalty" from its draft charter, thus paving the way for a possible future campaign to eventually end capital punishment in Thailand.

The assembly also supported a move that enables police to search suspects without a court warrant.

Removal of the words "death penalty" does not automatically mean an end to the death penalty, but future moves to end it will face fewer obstacles.

"It's good that the capital punishment issue has been adjusted [out of the charter] as it reflects the thinking of a society that doesn't resort to violence," said CDA member Kannika Bantherngjit.

"We should no longer resort to an eye for an eye and should look at the real cause of crime. Strong punishment is not right. It leads to society solving problems by force."

Postscript: In a referendum on 19th September the new constitution was accepted by a small majority of Thailand's population. While welcoming the omission of a phrase relating to the death penalty, we regret the passing of this unsatisfactory constitution forced on the country without consultation or freedom of discussion.