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No evidence that death penalty would deter sexual violence, any other crime: Amnesty on Nirbhaya judgment

By Our Representative
One of the topmost human rights organizations of the world, Amnesty International, responding to the Supreme Court verdict which upheld death penalty to the four four convicts of the the 2012 Delhi bus gang-rape and murder case of a young woman, who became popular as Nirbhaya, has said, "There is no evidence to show that the death penalty acts as a deterrent for sexual violence or any other crime."
Amnesty International India’s programmes director Asmita Basu in a statement, pointing out that, “unfortunately executions do not eradicate violence against women", insists, instead of death sentence, "the government must allocate adequate resources for the effective implementation of laws, improve conviction rates and ensure certainty of justice in all cases."
Pointing out that "even the Justice Verma Committee, whose recommendations were relied upon to reform laws on sexual assault and rape, had opposed imposing the death penalty in cases of rape”, Amnesty regrets, "In 2017, India was one of only three countries in the world that expanded the scope of the death penalty by adopting new laws".
It adds, "In April 2018, the Central Government approved an ordinance introducing death penalty for those convicted of raping girls aged 12 years or younger."
Basu's statement notes, “All too often lawmakers in India hold up capital punishment as a symbol of their resolve to tackle crime, and choose to ignore more difficult and effective solutions like improving investigations, prosecutions and support for victims’ families. Far-reaching procedural and institutional reforms are the need of the hour.“
Amnesty, which has been in the forefront in the campaign against capital punishment across the world, believes, death penalty "violates the most fundamental human right – the right to life. It is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment."
It adds, "The death penalty is discriminatory. It is often used against the most vulnerable in society, including the poor, ethnic and religious minorities, and people with mental disabilities."
So far, about 140 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice. Up until November 21, 2012, when the lone surviving gunman from the 2008 November Mumbai attacks, Ajmal Kasab was hanged, India had not carried out a single execution for almost eight years. Amnesty supports the view that Kasab's killing "meant India took a significant step backwards and joined the minority of countries in the world that are still executing."
Pointing towards some governments in the world have used it to "silence their opponents", according Amnesy, "Where justice systems are flawed and unfair trials rife, the risk of executing an innocent person is ever present.", adding, "When the death penalty is carried out, it is final. Mistakes that are made cannot be unmade. An innocent person may be released from prison for a crime they did not commit, but an execution can never be reversed."
Amnesty says, "There is no credible evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than a prison term. In fact, crime figures from countries which have banned the death penalty have not risen. In some cases they have actually gone down."
Supporting a Indian Law Commission report of August 31, 2015, submitted to the Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India, Amnesty has said, "The Indian government must heed the findings of a Law Commission report on the unfairness of the death penalty in India and immediately abolish it for all crimes".
The report said, the administration of the death penalty in India is fallible, vulnerable to misapplication, and disproportionately used against socially and economically marginalized people. “The death penalty therefore remains an irreversible punishment in an imperfect, fragile and fallible system,” it added, hoping that “the movement towards absolute abolition will be swift and irreversible.”
Commenting on the report, Aakar Patel, executive director of Amnesty International India, says, “The Commission debunks many of the myths surrounding the death penalty. Although the report stops short of recommending complete abolition, Parliament must seize this opportunity to show political leadership and abolish capital punishment.”
The Commission recommended that the death penalty be abolished for all crimes other than ‘terrorism-related offences and waging war’. However it pointed out that “there is no evidence of a link between fighting insurgency, terror or violent crime, and the need for the death penalty”. Citing examples including Nepal and Sri Lanka, it says, “Several countries have abolished the death penalty, or maintained moratoriums on executions, despite facing civil wars, threats of insurgency or terrorist attacks.”
The Commission states that the death penalty does not achieve any constitutionally valid penological goals, including deterrence or retribution. “Reliance on the death penalty diverts attention from other problems ailing the criminal justice system such as poor investigation, crime prevention and rights of victims of crime”, it says. It recommends various measures to improve the criminal justice system, including police reforms, improved witness protection and compensation to victims.
Meanwhile, the lawyer for the four rapist-murders, AP Singh, has been quoted as saying outside the courthouse in Delhi after the verdict, that “injustice” had been done to the convicted murderers, using the Hindi word for “boys” to describe them, adding, the court had caved to public and political pressure to uphold the death penalty.

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