Death Sentence, Is It Our Right?

Feb 29, 2016 Uncategorized

This piece was written by Ricky Gunawan and Answer C. Styaness and was published in The Jakarta Post on 5 September 2008.


Setting out the pros and cons about the death penalty always creates hot debate. Many countries including Indonesia, as well as several U.S. states, still have capital punishment, while the practice has been abolished in Europe and Australia.

Opponents of capital punishment argue there are many who still do not realize or recognize the death penalty violates the right to life as an inherent right of all human beings.

The death penalty is a form of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. It is nothing more than legalized murder done by the state in the name of justice. If we think murder is extremely cruel — so much so the perpetrators must receive a death sentence — then how can we say preparing an execution team of twenty shooters to take someone\’s life is not inhuman?

One of the favorite arguments put forth by retentionists — those who support the death penalty — to justify capital punishment is it is one of the most effective deterrents for would-be criminals. They argue the death penalty is needed to prevent other members of society from committing crimes.

Statistics from many countries, however, demonstrate the death penalty has little effect on decreasing crime. It is not the severity of the punishment which will deter crime and convey justice for the victim but the certainty perpetrators are convicted after a just, transparent trial, a legal process which determines guilt based on evidence.

\”But the death penalty meets society\’s need for justice.\” Retentionists often use this argument as well. Anyone who has committed a serious crime deserves to die. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, a life for a life. Is that the kind of justice we stand for here?

If so, then why not torture a torturer? At this point, we strongly condemn the practice of torture or, at least, prohibition of torture is clearly codified in the UN Convention against Torture. Letting that argument play out, why doesn\’t our legal system allow the state to rape a rapist?

It is simply because, deep down inside our conscience, we all know justice is not about taking that which the perpetrator has taken from us. For a long time, we have been sickened by cruel crimes and have asked the government to impede such cruelty by applying the death penalty. Yet we never put two and two together to see capital punishment does nothing more than continue the chain of atrocity.

Retentionists often link the notion of death penalty with a victim\’s need for justice. But who are they to talk about what any victim considers justice to be?

Victims often forgive perpetrators and even unequivocally declare they do not want the perpetrators to be executed. If we really want to punish perpetrators for the victims\’ sake, it is akin to punishing people based on emotional considerations. If punishments are linked to victims\’ feelings, then sanctions become subjective and risk becoming arbitrary.

Let\’s not forget the criminal justice system is vulnerable to error, an essential consideration in this debate. Fallibility is something we, as human beings, cannot avoid since it is in our nature. We cannot prevent all false convictions even with the system of judicial appeal.

Even an impartial and transparent legal process cannot always prevent this sort of human error. It is thus imprudent to allow this vulnerable system to decide if someone \”deserves\” to die or not.

As has already been proved in many cases, a court may execute someone who is falsely convicted. There are cases in which the executed were found innocent after the real perpetrators confessed and, unfortunately, after the executed had already lost their life. When this happens, consider who is responsible. If we are speaking of justice, what kind of justice can the victim, the executed one, and his or her family experience? We cannot bring the wrongly convicted back to life. Are retentionists willing to be responsible?

One final argument which Indonesian retentionists use to defend their position on the death penalty is a decision by Indonesia\’s Constitutional Court. In that decision, the right to life guaranteed in Article 28I, paragraph 1, of the Constitution is also subject to \”limitation\” as mentioned in the subsequent Article 28J, paragraph 2. The Constitutional Court confirmed the death penalty is not a violation of the right to life, only a limitation of that right.

That decision hinges on how we interpret what rights can be impaired, and which cannot. Is it true the right to life, explicitly mentioned in the Constitution as a right which cannot be derogated, is also subject to \”limitation\” as the Constitutional Court ruled?

Life is grace. It is a grace which is given by God. If He is the one who gave us life, then He must be the one with the right to take it. Who are we, as humans, to think we have the right to arrange somebody\’s moment of death? Who are we to judge whether someone is evil enough and hence deserves to die?

Are we playing God?

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