DEATH SENTENCE: DEMEANING THE DIGNITY OF HUMAN LIFE
Delivered on the 25th day of July, 2014, in representation of T.O. Elias Clamber at the Maiden Inter-Chamber Interjectory Debate Contest, Faculty of Law, UI
Everybody desires to get to paradise; and even though we cannot get there without it, nobody wants to die. I mean even terrorists hesitate before committing suicide. Each and every one of us here is scared of death in one way or the other, either for ourselves or for others. The thought of it troubles us. The talk of it agitates us. And a glance at it greatly overwhelms us. So why does a defence of death, either by accident or by court judgment, not bother us?
Good day, legal brethren, the bench, ladies and gentlemen. Adebajo is my cognomen and I’m here at this notable event, hoisting T.O. Elias’s emblem. I’m to give my assent to the statement that death sentence demeans the dignity of human life.
Before I proceed, I’d like to tell us that death sentence, also known as capital punishment, is a judicial pronouncement that condemns a man to expiry, it plunges him into the ancestral realm without his consent … Human life, on the other hand, is that phenomenon without which none of us will be here, or there, except perhaps 6-feet-below our legs. It is a God-given gift that must never ever be intentionally tampered with.
But then, what premises underline this assertion of mine that saying the capital punishment does not demean the dignity of human life is a lie?
One, according to sub-section (1) section 33 of the 1999 Constitution, ‘no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in the execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty’. The problem here is; how can we confidently tag someone as either guilty or not guilty?
As we all know, criminal culpability constitutes both actus reus and mens rea. Thus, even if we are able to say with certainty that a person used his hands to commit an offence, we can never be 100 percent sure that his mind is as guilty. And is it not true, the dictum of Sir William Blackstone that, ‘better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer’?
To buttress this point, I would like to allude to the case of Paul Hildwin who was dashed a death sentence. Thanks to DNA evidence, his innocence was discovered, early this month, after he had spent half of his life in detention.
In the same vein, persons have been killed for charges of rape, kidnap or murder, only for the real culprits to confess years later, or for the supposed victim to return alive.
We even have the case of Thomas and Meeks Griffin who were prosecuted for murder in 1915, because the police deemed them wealthy enough to secure an acquittal. They were summarily executed, only to be pardoned 94 years later [CNN article].
Ladies and gentlemen, even if persons who are executed are always truly guilty, we must realise that man is aga-tho-ca-co-logical, having proclivity towards both good and evil. This reality is aptly captured in the words of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, ‘there is no man so bad that he cannot be made good for something. No man should be put to death.’
A serial killer today can be a Reverend Pastor tomorrow, a prostitute today may be a nun tomorrow, and even, a ‘tsunamised’ student today may end up as a Vice Chancellor in the future. Therefore, we should not adopt a justice of vengeance; rather we should adopt that of rehabilitative deterrence.
We should all be like Dr Martin Luther King who said; ‘I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.’
Furthermore, it is no coincidence that Norway tops the United Nations Human Development Index for 2013 and she has abolished capital punishment since 1905 [according to Amnesty International i.e.]. So also, we have Germany, Netherland, Sweden, New Zealand and many others. On the other side of the list are countries that permit death penalty and are with the lowest human development index. Places like Sudan, Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria.
Lastly, the death sentence is not only contra-bono-mores and it is contra-legem, it is useless as it has not been found to discourage the commission of crimes. From the Global Crime Index of 2014, we can see that 16 out of the 30 most crime-ridden countries in the world permit death penalty. That is 53.3%, more than half!
Wife of Dr King, Coretta Scott, once said, ‘an evil deed is not redeemed by an evil deed of retaliation, justice is never advanced in the taking of a human life. Morality is never upheld by a legalised murder.’ Death sentence is nothing but legalised murder, lawful mischievousness; legitimate madness.
My adversaries may come here to argue that death sentence reduces the congestion of prisons, that it is easier and less expensive than other punitive measures; that it is backed up by some scriptures … but then these assertions, if they are raised; are absolutely not true. Even if they are, are we willing to sacrifice justice, fairness and human dignity on the altar of convenience and dogmatism?
Fellow law students, ladies and gentlemen, I only have for us – one more sentence. Let us sentence death sentence to death, to an oblivion of no return, because it not only demeans the dignity of human life, it equally derides the quality and gravity of human strife.
I – rest my case.