It is time we decided as a nation that drug traffickers and other miscreants who commit heinous crimes should be hanged high
‘They should hang them high!’ says my pal Keshraj, totally outraged, every time there is an atrocious crime, or someone is caught with kilograms of drugs. Just an informal random survey at any large gathering, such as a wedding, never fails to confirm that my good friend’s reaction is more widespread than imagined.
But for some mysterious reasons, our governments have been reluctant to re-introduce capital punishment (CP). Perhaps they are persuaded by all those psychologists, sociologists, and all-manner-of-apologists who assert that CP does not serve as a deterrent. In this paper the author will try to demonstrate that this is the biggest fallacy that the abolitionist brigade has been successfully peddling for many decades.
Before the traveller even lands at Singapore’s Changi Airport, he is warned that drug trafficking is a hanging offence. As he leaves his plane and makes his way towards Immigration control, he cannot avoid noticing every few yards — writ in large characters — “Death for Drug Traffickers under Singapore Law”. These stark messages are enough to put the fear of God in the average citizen, which category may include the first time “mule.”
Singapore’s hanging law has been criticized by many as being retrograde and barbaric. Although it is worth noting that serious crimes in the island State are relatively low; and expert observers believe that this is probably due to the certainty that the death penalty will be applied without exception.
An Eye for an Eye
The smooth running of society requires that criminals are made to pay for their crimes; and the Bible is quite clear on this issue. The principle of “An eye for an eye” enshrined in the Lex Talionis (Exodus 21 : 23-25) decrees that the punishment must fit the crime and all evil action should attract a commensurate penalty. Thus it was that murderers were punished by the State with execution in ancient Israel, and not invited to kill again.
But the Bible is not alone. Retribution is the potent theme that runs through other classics like Tulsidas Ramayana and Homer’s Iliad. Good is rewarded, but evil must be punished.
Capital Punishment (CP)
CP is the lawful killing by the State and it has been used since ancient times. However by the late 18th century the call for reform began to be made by academics and philosophers — Voltaire, Beccaria and Bentham among them. Their argument was that (1) CP was cruel (2) It did not have any significant effect on crime (3) It was open to error.
These self-same arguments are used today by opponents of CP. But what if the majority of people want to punish certain crimes with CP? Surely it is right and proper to respect the will of the people in any democracy. However bending backwards to accommodate the anti-CP lobby, many governments are unwilling to put the issue in their election manifest/to a referendum.
Thus the subject is deftly avoided. Governments seem to forget that they are put there by their peoples to govern in a manner that is fair to the majority and, if that majority feels CP fulfils this criterion, then so be it! Perhaps paying due respect to this fundamental principle of governance some countries have put CP on their statute books for certain types of crime. These are the USA, Japan, China and a significant number of Asian and Middle-Eastern countries.
Since the Enlightenment abolitionists have maintained that CP is cruel. Fair enough, I say. But what about the cruelty perpetrated on the victim? When a sadistic killer rapes and murders an 8-year old girl child, or a teenager’s life is blighted or lost as a result of the drugs peddled by the trafficker, we only need to ask the parents of that innocent 8-year old or the 14-year old teenager, and we get nearer to the solution. If CP is cruel, atrocious crimes perpetrated by these evil man and women hardly constitute acts of kindness, do they?
Abolitionist also assert that CP does not have any effect on capital crime. Yet there is ample evidence to suggest that it does.
For instance, in the UK the murder rate has more than doubled since abolition in 1965 and has kept on rising ever since. From 0.68 per 100k population it had risen to 1.42 per 100k population in 30-years. Thus from 300 killings in 1964 the figure went up to 565 in 1994. Ten years later in 2004, there were 833 homicides — a rise of almost 300pc since abolition!
On the other hand, in Singapore — which rigorously applies CP — there were 15 times fewer murders per head of population than the UK in 1997. In the USA the murder rate fell from 24.5k in 1993 to 18.2k in 1997; the decrease in homicide numbers coincided with a time when there was an increase in the use of CP for murderers.
I admit this is a difficult one. Though rare, errors in judgements do occur, and an infinitesimal number of innocent people have been executed in the past. But society may think that this is a risk worth taking. Hence the need for a referendum.
Many abolitionists postulate that a viable alternative to CP is life imprisonment without parole (LWOP). But even as far back as 19th century JS Mill thought that LWOP was far more cruel than CP. Thus in 2007, 311 lifers in Italy petitioned their government for the right to be executed because they thought that LWOP was living death. Besides LWOP cannot deter a murderer from killing prison staff or other inmates. On the other hand CP renders the offender permanently powerless from committing any (such) offence again.
CP was abolished in 1995 although it is still allowed for under the Constitution. Since abolition, the homicide rate has been steadily going up. The following figures are a sample of the trend. 1995 = 2.20, 1996 = 2.96, 2002 = 2.40, 2008 = 3.00, 2011 = 2.75 per 100k population.
If this year’s ADSU’s drugs find are anything to go by, then we are in very serious trouble. It is estimated that MRU consumes some 500Kgs+ of the stuff p.a. On the list of UNODOC the island ranks 5th in the world for opiate use per head of population. If we add the large quantity of locally produced cannabis to this, it is no wonder we have so many addicts in the country. Unable to hold a job, they turn to petty crime for their daily intake. But there have also been some cases that have gone beyond the pale; and serious crimes have been perpetrated by drug addicts.
Statistics, especially up-to-date ones, are infinitely notorious to find in MRU. But the USA has classified MRU as a destination for child sex. In 2002 our own Ministry of Women’s Rights estimated that some 2.6k children were into prostitution. We don’t know how many of these were coerced into it but, from media reports, we know that even mothers have been known to sell their child daughters. Are these reports the small tips of large icebergs? In 2010, 4k cases of child abuse were reported to the police.
In 2016 there were 678 cases of sexual abuse. Out of these, 603 were on females, of whom a shocking 56pc were on minors under the age of 16. (Alarming as these figures are, care should be exercised because, knowing the mores and values of our society, I am sure that many more cases go unreported.) In 2016 there were 11.7k cases of assaults, 18.9k of burglary and 3.4k were drug related offences. The litany goes on, and on… Consequently it’s about time strong resolve was taken to stop and reverse the rot.
CP in MRU?
There is ample evidence that prison is not a deterrent. Indeed criminals are no longer afraid of prison. Some even prefer it because they are housed and fed at a daily cost of Rs 650 to the taxpaying public which includes the families of victims. To the defenders of the poor criminal, I would simply ask how many would be prepared cocoon and feed the rapist or the killer of their own child?
Statistics after statistics show that the suspension of CP has resulted in a larger number of murders, burglaries, assaults on the person and sexual offences. Drug running is so rife that we may be running the risk of going the same path as Caribbean island of Aruba. In 1993 this Dutch island was described by one Italian newspaper as “the first state to be bought by the bosses of the Cosa Nostra.” At the time the drugs mafia owned 60pc of the island!
If the allusion seems strong, it is made intentionally to shock the public out of its torpor and goad the authorities into taking stronger, pitiless action against drug running. Unlike Aruba, MRU is a tiny island surrounded by a large ocean. It is 550-miles from the nearest large landmass and 1100-miles from the nearest continent. It is a small place where everybody knows everybody else and, and as Keshraj puts it, there is a policeman in every household. If everybody does their job diligently without fear and favour, then the scourge of drugs can be drastically curtailed — if not totally elimination.
Abolitionists often put forward the criminals’ human rights as valid reason for the State not to take their lives. But what of the victims’ human rights to Life? They are gone forever or maimed for life, whilst the murderer is free to commit his crime again and the trafficker is free to ply his trade from within his prison cell. Whilst CP will not bring back the victims, The Lex Talionis principle would certainly establish justice for them and their families.
Therefore if Government is nervous about bringing back CP, the right and proper democratic thing to do is ask the population in a national referendum. People want justice and, an eye for an eye, is the only alternative that satisfies their yearning for natural justice for their loved ones.
The choice is stark! We either re-introduce CP or continue to accept the high levels of crimes and criminal activity that is undermining our social fabric. However if/when it is reinstated, then it should never be applied piecemeal. The legislation must make it crystal clear which crimes will attract CP, and rigorously applied; and thus say “good riddance to bad rubbish!” As a bonus the taxpayer will save R237k annually per executed criminal; during a life sentence of say 30 years, the saving will be a whacking R7.1m at today’s prices!
Yes, it is time we decided as a nation that drug traffickers and other miscreants who commit heinous crimes should be hanged high, à la Keshraj!
- Published in print edition on 22 September 2017