10 October: Efforts against the Death Penalty

10 October: For Those on the Pay-roll of Death

Rene Wadlow

 

I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death. I am not on his pay-roll. I will not tell him the whereabouts of my friends nor of my enemies either      Edna St Vincent Millay

 

            10 October is the International Day Against the Death Penalty. Since the end of World War II, there has been a gradual abolition of the death penalty with the rather obvious recognition that death is not justice. In some countries, executions have been suspended in practice but laws allowing execution remain; in other cases, there has been a legal abolition.

 

            The death penalty as carried out by the State is still practiced in a small number of backward countries, basically less than 10 of the 192 members of the United Nations. The top five in the number of legal executions in 2009 are China (over 1000, not all are reported so the number is an estimate made by Amnesty International from press reports), Iran (over 388 – again not all may have been reported), Iraq (120), Saudi Arabia (69), the USA (52), then Yemen and Sudan.

 

            In the USA, there have always been people against legal executions. Unfortunately, they are rarely elected to legislatures. The clear words of the American poet Kenneth Patchen (1911-1972) have been a credo for those who have opposed executions on moral grounds:

            “This is a man

               he is a poor creature

               you are not to kill him

               this is a man

               he has a hard time

               upon the earth

               you are not to kill him.

 

            There are those who also oppose the death penalty on the practical grounds that it has little impact on the rate of killings in society.

 

            However 10 October can also be a day to oppose all organized killings. In addition to State-sponsored official executions, often carried out publicly or at least with official observers, a good number of countries have state-sponsored “death squads” — persons affiliated to the police or intelligence agencies who kill “in the dark of the night” — unofficially. These deaths avoid a trial which might attract attention or even a “not guilty” decision. A shot in the back of the head is faster.  The number of “targeted killings” has grown.  In many cases, the bodies of those killed are destroyed and so death is supposed but not proved.  This is what the United Nations calls “enforced or involuntary disappearances.”

 

            There is also a growth in non-governmental targeted killings.  Attention has focused recently on the drug-trade-related deaths of Mexico’s “drug lords”. These groups of organized crime have many of the negative attributes of states.  Their opponents are designated for killing and executed by those on the pay-roll of death. These groups are not limited to Mexico. In addition, there are a good number of countries where non-governmental guerrilla groups exist and carry out executions.

 

            Thus our efforts against executions need to be addressed both to governments and to those state-like non-governmental armed groups. The abolition of executions and the corresponding valuation of human life are necessary steps to building a just society.

 

            The “marching orders” for those working for the abolition of executions remains the letter written by B. Vanzetti on the eve of his death to Judge Thayer who had condemned Sacco and Vanzetti, “If it had not been for these things, I might have live out my life talking at street corners to scorning men. I might have die, unmarked, unknown, a failure.  Now we are not a failure. This is our career and our triumph. Never in our full life could we hope to do such work for tolerance, for justice, for man’s understanding of man as now we do by accident.  Our words — our lives — our pains — nothing! The taking of our lives — lives of a good shoemaker and a poor fish peddler — all! That last moment belongs to us —that agony is our triumph.”

 

            Rene Wadlow, Representative to the UN, Geneva, Association of World Citizens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comment by Capt. Anand Kumar on October 1, 2011 at 8:49pm

David has really brought up a point not satisfactorily answered yet. Is killing in any form by anyone, be it individual or the state, justified? Immediate answer should be no.

 

Yet, as we look around and ponder over history, an impression is gained that violence, removal of undesirable elements (symbolized by killing) is an integral part of evolution. Many species disappeared from our planet without any help from humans. Every moment so many cells in our own bodies and outside it die and new ones appear. Our bodies are programmed to kill itself once it cannot perform certain functions. Every Ajmal Kasab or Timothy McVeigh causes a shift in human consciousness leading to development of new thoughts and there is much more. 

 

HH Dalai Lama himself consumed non-vegetarian food with relish (killing of animals) until not very long ago. We do kill plants to consume vegetarian food. Big fish eating small fish is a natural principle. The effects of climate change is killing many poor farmers across the globe, which is nature's response for taking too many liberties with it. Why the human societies cannot follow nature's way and remove undesirable elements? 

Comment by David Reigle on October 1, 2011 at 11:07am
Good point, Capt. Anand. We, too, here in the U.S.A. have (or had) a non-repentant mass killer like Ajmal Kasab in the person of Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 innocent people in the Oklahoma City bombing. He was executed in 2001. Repentance may not take place for such people in that particular lifetime. But the issue is that two wrongs don't make a right. If it is wrong for Kasab or McVeigh to kill people, why is it right for the government to kill them?
Comment by Capt. Anand Kumar on September 30, 2011 at 9:08pm

Thank You Rene. One wishes that there were more topics like these for discussion here.

India is one amongst thsoe countries still having death penalty in the statutes to be awarded in "rarest of rare" cases. One of the person who has earned it is Ajmal Kasab, a Pakistani terrorist involved in killing of over 170 innocent men, women and children on November 26th, 2008 in Mumbai. He maintains that what he did was correct and given an opportunity will do so again. Majority of Indians want him executed as soon as possible. he is currently waiting for his appeals to be decided by the higher courts.

On the other hand we have the story of Sage Valmiki, who after a life of robbery and killings reformed himself and became a great devotee of Lord Rama to write classics like Ramayana and Yoga Vasishtha. There is story also of the great King Ashoka who after killing thousands repented and embraced Buddhism and preached non-violence.

But these are stories of true repentence. What does one do when the criminal is not repentent? 

Comment by David Reigle on September 30, 2011 at 7:55pm
Thank you, Rene, for this excellent post. The execution of Troy Davis in Georgia nine days ago on Sep. 21 has reminded the world of just how barbaric the U.S.A is, and just how tenuous our law system is. There was certainly doubt about his guilt, and he adamantly maintained his innocence until the end. Many believed that he was telling the truth, but not the judges. Now it is too late; the state of Georgia has made certain that no one will hear his voice again.

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