World Day Against The Death Penalty
Studies have shown over the years that half of the Australian population continue to support the death penalty, but how many have really thought about the consequences.
Today, 10th October, is the 9th Annual World Day Against the Death Penalty an important day to take stock of the progress that has been made in the quest for abolition and the work still to be done. As an Anti-death penalty coordinator my views against the death penalty would not surprise anyone. But I did not come to this conclusion from nowhere, it is based on a decade of case work that has involved working on the death penalty in countries across the world. Before that I spent 3 years in study both formal and of my own to come to the conclusion that the death penalty is an injustice in all cases.
Yet polls in Australia, a country that has abolished the death penalty, show that roughly half the population still support the process of death. So it is important that Australian’s take the time to think about this important domestic and international issue. Most who call for the death penalty tend to do so for cases of mass murder, but around the world these worst of offenders tend never to be executed. Take the United States, the only Western nation that still executes its civilians for non-military crimes. Charles Manson and Jeffrey Dahmer are two of the most well-known and well-studied serial killers of the last 100 years, neither was executed and Manson is eligible to apply for parole in 2 years time. Dahmer was convicted of killing 15 men and boys, raping them both before and after their death and consuming the flesh of others. If anyone was to be sentenced to death one would safely assume Dahmer would be the poster child. He wasn’t.
Instead people like Troy Davis, Tookie Williams, Angel Diaz and Todd Willingham have all been executed in that time. They are just four whose guilt, fairness of trial and legality of arrest are all in serious question. Willingham was almost certainly innocent when he was put to death, while serious doubt remains about that of Davis. Mean while in states like Illinois they have abolished the death penalty after studies found those waiting for execution were not only NOT the worst of the worst, but innocent and must be released. The US imprisons more than 2 million people, the largest number and per capita figure in the world, they have shocking levels of recidivism and a death penalty machine that executes the Black, poor and mentally ill at a rate that outweighs their counterparts in the rest of the community by more than 10 times.
This therefore is not capital punishment that is set out to remove the worst of the worst from society but a system that executes those with poor legal representation, no money, a minority or with a serious mental illness. As the saying goes, don’t have the capital and you get the punishment. This is backed up by every major study conducted into the death penalty system that has shown it does not act as a deterrent. Rather states that impose the death penalty tend to have higher rates of murder and violent crime and as a result larger prison populations. It becomes a vicious cycle that results in more and more innocent victims of crime and loss of life. While studies in a number of states, including the study ordered by then Governor George Ryan in Illinois showed the death penalty system was broken at every turn.
Outside of the US the majority of executions take place in Pakistan, China, Iran, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. These are often not against those who have committed violent crimes, but political dissidents, those whom have been convicted of blasphemy, crimes against the king or ruler and adultery/homosexuality. Pakistan and Iran have this year carried out the execution of those whose only crime was to promote their religion other than the state accepted religion of Islam. While Iran and Saudi Arabia have executed women who have been raped, for the crime of adultery. Saudi Arabia still conducts its execution by sword and beheading is a gruesome and rarely swift method for murder by the state of a human being. China’s figures for execution are so large they refuse to publish them, they are often those who dare question the totalitarian regime or who are from ethnic groups in the outer reaches of the nation.
Each year more than 10,000 people are officially executed by nations around the world. Virtually none have been convicted of mass killing or large-scale sexual abuse of children. The death penalty is simply an act of revenge against a small percentage of the criminal population and a larger percentage of women, minority groups and those whose actions would be deemed simply free expression in the majority of the world.
Supporting the death penalty is not the support for being hard on crime, it is the support for an unjust gruesome system of vengeance that rarely gets the right man and promotes a cycle of violent crime, mistrust and fear in the nations that carry it out most often. There are no safe guards, there can be no over turning of the act when an execution has taken place and Australia is better for no longer partaking in the practice. But we also must do our part to end this most barbaric of acts around the world. And if we value our friendship with the United States we must encourage them to catch up with the rest of the world and end this dark ages horror. Only then will the last remaining nations begin to follow and the world can be free of one of the crimes against humanity we can stop forever!
Anti Death Penalty Coordinator – Foreign Prisoner Support Service.