Tuesday, January 08, 2008

If Not Now, When?

Two recent developments raise the question again of Thailand's adherence to the death penalty;
1. The vote in favour of a universal moratorium on capital punishment in the United Nations General Assembly despite the decision of Thailand to oppose the measure.
2. The slow but inevitable progress of the US towards abolition
a) this development is evident in the consideration by the US Supreme Court of the constitutionality of lethal injection: " The United States Supreme Court will hear arguments on Monday, January 7, on whether or not the lethal injection process in Kentucky is a violation of the Constitution’s 8th Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishments. While the case, Baze v. Rees, has prompted a de facto moratorium on executions, it does not concern the constitutionality of the death penalty itself.

Currently, 35 of the 36 states with the death penalty use variations of the same three-drug combination in their lethal injection executions. Kentucky uses thiopental to make the inmate unconscious, pancuronium to paralyze the muscles, and potassium to ultimately stop the inmate's heart. The petitioners in Baze state that this combination of drugs has a high likelihood of producing severe and unnecessary pain in the prisoner. The second and paralyzing drug, however, makes the prisoner unable to exhibit any pain. Death row inmates in other states have also challenged lethal injection procedures in recent years."
The case is another manifestation of the realisation that there is no method to execute people without pain and indignity. The increasing numbers waiting for long delayed execution reveal that even the US has lost the stomach to send people to their death.
b) Whatever its lack of moral appeal, it is lately recognized in the US that it is more costly to execute people than to keep them in indeterminate detention, especially if one includes the cost of effective legal defense which is recognise to be a required precondition of the death penalty.

These developments raise the question for Thailand, "If not now, when?". By its vote against the Moratorium Thailand has taken a stand with the reactionary minority on one of the great moral issues of the day. And yet, Thailand lays claim to the high moral standing of its Buddhist culture which prohibits killing in any form. Will Thailand wait until it is the last state of all to renounce judicial killing?
Thailand has learned the trade of execution from the US and Government always point to US practice as an example that Thailand follows. What if the US is now visibly faltering and inching towards abolition? Whenever Thailand makes a step towards adopting world standards in human rights, it points to the moral imperative of its action. Will Thailand wait until the US has moved against the death penalty to discover its moral justification to follow?
At present there are up to 1000 men and women condemned to death in Thailand. Does the Government seriously consider beginning a process of execution at a rate determined by the facilities for execution, which could take years to complete? In the extreme, would we execute 10 persons a week for the next two years to clear the backlog?
If we do not abolish the death penalty now, then when?