A democratic society should not permit state violence!

by on 週五, 23 七月 2010 7734 點擊 評論
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French Romantic writer Victor Hugo once proclaimed "The death penalty is the essential and lasting symbol of of barbaric behaviour".

From a human evolution standpoint, the way we distinguish between modern civilisation and the barbaric past, is our respect for other humans and life. To kill is an extremely brutal act, regardless of the circumstances, the procedures gone through and by whom it is implemented. There is no way of masking the innate barbarism of killing.

Thus, the more civilised a culture becomes, the more we start to reflect on the death penalty. In the modern world with the International Human Rights Act, the trend is truly moving towards the abolishment of the death penalty. 139 of the world's 197 countries have abolished the death penalty (no executions for 10 or more years), of the remaining 58, less than half of them carried out an execution in 2009. This serves as testament that many countries, after a period of logical analysis have realised that there is a conflict between the values of civilised societies and those under the death penalty system.

For example, many people think that the death penalty is a useful tool for alleviating the pain and anger of the victim's family as well as realising justice. However, if approaching the subject from a victim protection standpoint, then one must realise that punishing the offender with death, may for a short time satisfy the desire for revenge but is ineffective in helping the victim's family live with the loss of their relatives nor does it help look after them in the future. Furthermore the state's responsibility to care for the victims and their families not simply come to an end once the offender has been executed. In other words, the protection of victims and the death penalty system are two completely unrelated issues. Death penalty is also certainly not a key prerequisite to victim protection since in various countries around the world there are organisations of victims families who are explicitly against it and even in Taiwan there is no shortage of cases where the victims families are willing to forgive the murders of their relatives.

A questionable concept of justice

Therefore, what seems like public opinion championing the cause of justice for victims, hence strong support for the death penalty, in fact has complex social and psychological background factors. This was also perceived by Durkheim in his penal theory. To the common people, the message given by the punishment of death isn't one of caring for the victims and their families, nor is it of punishment and teaching a lesson. Neither. It is more a form of excorsising ceremony as a way of recovering what the society's psychology perceives as the broken normal order of things (especially with over exaggerations and demonisation in the media). What shines through this transparent concept is in fact human selfishness and indifference. The majority of the public who praise the death penalty system are only concerned about the disruption to the normal order of their lives. They are not truly concerned for the victims and even less so for the underlying causes of the crime, how to truly deal with the problem or how to avoid similar misfortunes in the future. In other words, this type of justice is actually full of injustice.

The values espoused by modern democracies emphasize that the people should in fact be active participants in the construction of society, rather than indifferent observers. In particular, the state's power is supposed to derive from the whole population. If the people do not fearfully guard against and recall the power of the state to deprive an individual of life; then if the day when state power shakes off the people's reins and becomes the exclusive domain of the dictator, Taiwan's White Terror history could most feasibly return.

Amnesty International has always maintained that the death penalty in itself is full of prejudice, erroneous judgements and abuse, and the instances are uncountable. Furthermore, the public's misconceptions of the death penalty, have rationalised irreparable acts of state violence and this inevitably involves some innocent victims. In conclusion, a democratic society should not permit the death penalty - a cruel and inhumane state violence.

Translated from the Chinese by Nicholas Coulson

Image: Cécile Thimoreau

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最後修改於 週三, 08 一月 2014 17:34
Yong-Cheng Gao (高涌誠)

台灣大學農業推廣系學士、文化大學法律系法學士。專長為公平交易法、勞基法、消保法、公司法、行政訴訟等。現任民間司改會常務執委、台北律師公會秘書長。

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