License to kill. Not in our names!
— Nita Chicooree
Whatever be the nature of a crime, be it premeditated murder, impulsive murder, killing out of revenge, child murder, rape followed by murder, torture leading to death and all the atrocities human beings (especially men) are capable of, a crime is an abhorrent act. Capital punishment, whatever be the methods and tools — strangulation, hanging, electric chair, lethal injection, lapidation and all the death instruments human beings are capable of inventing — is equally abhorrent.
It means giving the elected representatives license to kill in the name of the people. For want of viable economic strategies to improve the everyday life of the people, reduce inequalities and promote social justice, rightist governments have brandished the spectre of insecurity thus playing on the fears of the people on the eve of elections. Death penalty is too serious an issue to be loudly instrumentalized during political campaigns to garner votes.
According to press reports, only very serious crimes will fall under the future law of capital punishment and it will be left to the discretion of the judges and a panel of jury. Which crimes are considered very serious when any crime is about taking someone else’s life? How do you go about telling aggrieved families of victims that their assassinated sister, daughter, brother, son or father is not so serious a crime which requires the most extreme form of punishment compared to other people’s grief at losing their dear ones at the hands of a criminal?
In the US, studies have proved that capital punishment does not deter crime. A very low percentage of recidivism has been observed among those who committed their first crime. What percentage of recidivism has been recorded in Mauritius? As long as life sentences prevent the most hardened criminals from committing further crimes, why not keep that as an option in extreme cases. Most capital crimes are committed during moments of great emotional stress when logical thinking has been suspended. In such moments of uncontrollable anger, hatred and rising temperature of adrenalin, violence is impulsively inflicted by persons heedless of the consequences of their deeds. In the case of premeditated crime, which is quite rare, the criminal ordinarily concentrates on escaping detection, arrest and conviction. Death penalty does not solve the problem of impulsive criminality.
Let us not forget that crimes often occur among the underprivileged social classes. What equality of opportunity do poor people have for their defence in court? The public showers no sympathy for a guilty person who is poor, uneducated, jobless and friendless. Others may get away with crime if they have the financial means to hire the smartest lawyers and get supported by influential people.
In Mauritius, a rising number of crimes has been recorded in the villages and in the cités. The point is not about finding excuses for all the crimes that are committed. A reasonable first step is to ask our sociologists to conduct a thorough report on the educational and psychological profile of those who have committed crimes. Poor educational level, intellectual paucity, high promiscuity, precarious and harsh living conditions, frustration over the inability to get the right place in society, alcohol or drug addiction, lack of discernment in what is right and wrong emerging as the major factors which characterize offenders will be no surprise to anyone.
The part that various institutions should play in creating a sound environment for the well-being of one and all at different levels must be constantly reviewed and upgraded to be effective.
Death penalty is losing ground in the US and other countries. Its ineffectiveness has been proved, and judicial errors which send innocent people to the gallows are revolting. Taking the life of the guilty person has its root in ancient religious belief according to which the soul of the victim does not rest until his assassin is killed. This barbaric and inhumane practice is most unacceptable by modern standards of ethics and morals. More focus should be put on the prevention of crime than appeasing public anger by occasionally hanging scapegoats to conceal the real issues.
Death penalty involves a great amount of energy in investigations and trials and its imposition is arbitrary and irrevocable and applied randomly at best besides being discriminatory against the poor and uneducated. The adoption of such a law gives the message that human life no longer deserves respect when it is useful to take it and that homicide is legitimate when deemed justified by pragmatic concerns. Nor do I think that locking up people like animals between four walls is a better solution. In modern times, it is taken for granted that whoever adopts an anti-social behaviour in any form including mad people should be interned and kept at a distance. We should take the challenge of rethinking our solutions and methods without relying on more developed countries to think for us.
At the core of taking someone’s life is the suspension of logical thinking, reason and self-control. So what policy can be adopted for the prevention of crime? The State should not arrogate itself the right to kill human beings, especially when it kills with premeditation and ceremony under colour of law, in our names.