Is abolishing the death penalty really a world trend?

by on Wednesday, 14 July 2010 7946 hits Comments
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Part of the reason why the subject of abolishing the death penalty has been reverberating around Taiwan can be attributed to Amnesty International.

It was in 1977 that the organisation took the decision to start campaigning to abolish the death penalty, since then they have formed a vast and influential international anti-death penalty movement. The death penalty has no crime deterrence benefits; there are often convictions of the innocent; death penalty is a barbarous act of revenge; these are all reasons provided by the organisation. There are both people that believe these arguments, and those that don’t, because it touches upon a subjective value dispute. However, the absolute line adopted by Amnesty in selling their agenda has made some believe that the abolition of the death penalty is an irreversible global trend and anyone not following is backward.

Every year Amnesty International publishes a public report on the death penalty for the previous year, clearly detailing which countries have abolished and which maintain the death penalty. As with the recently published report, the whole of the world’s mainstream media always pays close attention. There are 95 countries that have formally abolished the death penalty and in reality a further 35 countries who no longer carry it out. Whilst two thirds of the planet’s countries have cast aside the practice, those maintaining it are lead by totalitarian China. In this way, objective figures convey a subjective message: hurry up and abolish or you’re scum.

Well versed in psychology and the human mind’s fear of being amongst the minority, Amnesty successfully conducted a “paradigm shift”. Their influence has no boundaries, so it is no surprise that the argument focused on by the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty is that abolishing the death penalty is a global trend, with even the former Minister of Justice Ching-feng Wang[1] stating on the eve of her resignation “I hope the day comes when I can proudly say: this beautiful island does not have the death penalty”.

In recent years, many of the abolishing countries are in Eastern and Southern Europe; yet while it appears to be an inevitable trend, there is more to it than meets the eye. Take Poland for example, it abolished the death penalty in 1997. The reason? In order to join the European Union! The European Convention on Human Rights expressly prohibits the death penalty; thus, the EU forces this value upon all new member states. With the numerous benefits of joining the EU, the government naturally chose economic rationality and made legislation abolishing the death penalty. Since joining, however, many people found there to be no benefits of belonging to the EU and kept watching the stream of brutal murder cases continue as before. In the face of an anti-abolitionist wave, the Polish president publicly stated his support for the death penalty and called for its restoration. The EU immediately criticised him, accusing him of going against the tide. It’s clear that the Poles can do nothing but accept their fate.

On the contrary, Uncle Sam takes no notice of any global tides. Most American states maintain the death penalty, and Americans are by no means feeling uncomfortable about this. In the classic book Democracy in America, A. de Tocqueville created the term “American Exceptionalism”, pointing out that in many areas Americans are different from Europeans. This is clearly the case regarding the question of whether or not to abolish the death penalty. Supporters of the abolishment like to state that all 46 countries in Europe (apart from Belarus) have repealed the death penalty, yet, hidden in this figure are a number of miniscule nation states. When comparing with the USA, which is counted as one country, can we really say that 46 equals far more than one?

The question of abolishing the death penalty is a purely subjective controversy and the so-called global trend is a myth.

[1] Taiwan’s Former Minister of Justice, stepped down on the 11th March after public protests against her abolitionist stance on the Death Penalty


Translated from the Chinese by Nicholas Coulson

Photo: ThisParticularGreg

Last modified on Wednesday, 08 January 2014 17:34
Juei-ming Huang (黃瑞明)


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