Capital Punishment – Too Archaic for the Modern World?

death-penalty1The recent execution of Andrew Chan, Myuran Sukurmaran and six other people in Indonesia has led to strong reactions from various countries and individuals. It has once again brought the morality of capital punishment to the forefront. Whilst this debate goes on, the families of those who were killed in this latest execution will experience the pain and trauma of grief as they come to terms with this legalised killings.

According to Amnesty International, 140 countries have abolished the death penalty. However death penalty is still practiced in 58 countries. Since 1977 when only 16 countries had abolished the death penalty, this organisation has been working hard to end the horrendous execution.

Whilst death penalty laws are found in the Old Testament of the Bible and practiced, it was made more difficult to carry out by the establishment of religious laws which made the standard of proof before the death penalty can be carried out more stringent. In 30 A.D. the Sanhedrin effectively abolished capital punishment by stating that the death penalty of for God alone to use, not fallible human. In 1948, Israel inherited the British legal system that allowed for capital punishment for muder. In 1954, the Knesset however voted to abolish the death penalty for the crime of murder but retained capital punishment for Nazi war crimes, certain crimes under military law and crimes against the state. Today the death penalty has hardly been used. In fact Chief Justice Barak pronounced that the death penalty as legally unconstitutional because it contradicts the right to life embedded in Israel’s Basic Law of Human Dignity and Freedom.

Besides the Old Testament, there were other cultures that practiced the death penalty. In the 18th century B.C. the Code of King Hammaurabi of Babylon codified the death penalty for 25 different crimes. The death penalty was also found in the Hittite Code of the 14th Century B.C., the Draconian Code of Athens of the 7th Century B.C. and the Roman Law of the Twelve Tablets of the 5th Century B.C. Types of death sentences from these ancient codes included crucifixion, drowning, beating or stoning to death, burning alive and impalement.

In the 10th Century A.D., hanging became the usual method of execution in Britain. In the 16th Century A.D., under the reign of Henry VIII, as many as 72,000 people were estimated to have been executed. Some common methods of execution at that time were boiling, burning at teh stake, hanging, beheading, and drawing and quartering, where there were drawn by horse to the place of execution, where they were hanged, emasculated, disembowelled, beheaded and quartered (chopped into four pieces).

Whilst hanging is still practiced today, advocates of the death penalty claim that more humane methods of execution are practiced in various countries. These include lethal injections, electrocution, gas chamber, and facing the firing squad.I do have question marks on whether these methods are really humane.

The question that I have in my mind is this. Should the death penalty continue to exist in the 21st century? The death penalty came into being from cultures and nations that existed at a time where violence was a norm. It existed during the barbaric times of human history. This is clearly seen in the way they executed people for crimes that today we no longer view as crimes. The origins of the death penalty was clearly a synmptom of a culture of violence, not a solution to it. The death penalty failed to deter people committing crime back then. And it still does not deter people from committing crime today.

Maybe it is time to rethink the place of the death penalty in today’s world.

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