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Have the states the right to inflict the capital punishment?

By Spiros Tzelepis

Approaching the controversial issue of capital punishment

Image taken from Amnesty International

One more country, Russia, abolished capital punishment at the beginning of June. According the Amnesty International, the worldwide situation surrounding the issue is:

-67 countries and territories have abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

-14 countries have abolished the death penalty for all but exceptional crimes such as wartime crimes.

-23 countries can be considered de facto abolitionist: they retain the death penalty in law but have not carried out any executions for the past 10 years or more.
Therefore a total of 104 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

-More than two countries a year on average have abolished the death penalty in law since 1976.

-68 prisoners were executed in the USA in 1998, bringing the total number executed - since the use of the death penalty was resumed in 1977 - to 500 victims.


(as of February 1999)

Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty Honduras, Nicaragua, Slovak Republic

(Total: 3)

Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Portugal, Romania, Seychelles, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Uruguay, Venezuela

(Total: 36)

Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (European Convention on Human Rights) concerning the abolition of the death penalty Latvia, Russia, Ukraine

(Total: 3)

Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland

(Total: 30)

Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty Nicaragua

(Total: 1)

Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama, Uruguay, Venezuela

(Total: 6)

This table was taken from Amnesty International

From time to time there is an intense debate regarding capital punishment. Many governments have put an end to it, because this kind of punishment does not reconcile with the human rights. Nevertheless 91 countries keep it, arguing that it is necessary.

The main reason is they believe the death penalty is the only way to protect the society from future crimes, especially in the case of felonies (rapists, cold blood murderers). However, various organizations fight this punishment and wish it to be abolished.

Despite the excuses of the supporters of the issue I can find some very important reasons which may make them reconsider their opinion:

-Human life is an inviolable right of every human being, and the state hasn't got the right to take it.

- the convict knows his death will occur soon and suffers psychological torture until it happens, making it an extremely cruel punishment.

-It has been proven that the threat of capital punishment is unable to prevent serious crimes in the case of cold-blood murderers.

-The most important argument against the "penalty" is that if there is a misjudgment, the damage can't be redressed. As long as the death penalty is maintained, the risk of executing innocent individuals can never be eliminated. According to a 1987 study, three hundred and fifty people convicted of capital crimes in the USA between 1900 and 1985 were innocent of the crimes charged. Some prisoners escaped execution by minutes, but 23 were actually executed.

-We could not forget to mention that a lot of times this kind of punishment is inflicted in a disproportionate way to various social classes. It is also used as a means of political oppression and as a means to permit those who govern to get rid of their opponents.

We all wish to have a society which respects human life and human rights. To succeed we all must be interested in the structure of our society and do work beyond the discussions, debates and disagreements.

The statistics were graciously offered by the Greek department of Amnesty International.

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