''An eye for an eye' leaves everyone blind''
A young man is a promising student. Although he came to education late because his parents could not afford school fees, he excelled in his PLE and is now studying for his O-levels. If this were any normal student, his future would look bright.
But this is no normal student; his school is a prison, his teacher has been convicted of robbery, and he, like his classmates, has been sentenced to death by hanging.
On Friday, October 10, 2008was the 6th World Day Against the Death Penalty when human rights defenders across the world came together to call for an end to capital punishment.
The majority of countries in the world today have already abolished the death penalty. Rwanda did so in 2007, South Africa in 1995, while Burundi looks set to follow suit. Kenya has not carried out any execution in over 20 years, and Tanzania in nearly 15. Uganda remains the anomaly where over 900 men and women currently await execution in prison.
Uganda's commitment to the death penalty risks isolating it on the world stage as more and more countries recognise that retention of the penalty is incompatible with an increasing concern to protect human rights. The right to life is the most fundamental of all.
What limitations on state power can there be when the state is allowed to take an individuals' life, a punishment from which there can truly be no appeal?
Yet the number of prisoners living under a death sentence is ever increasing. Under the Ugandan law, (which is being challenged in the Supreme Court), anyone convicted of murder or aggravated robbery gets a mandatory death penalty regardless of the circumstances of the offence. Most who cannot afford private legal representation only meet their lawyer on the day their trial begins and have no opportunity to explain their version of events to them.
Often they lack the means to summon witnesses who could provide important evidence in their defence. Yet in spite of the grave potential for error, the state retains its prerogative to kill.
Even imagining the impossible, that innocent men and women were never sentenced to death and executed, can it really be that everyone who has committed such a crime no longer deserves to live? More fundamentally, are we even entitled to decide whether another individual deserves to live or die, or is such a decision for God alone?
But if we reject capital punishment, we must find a way of adequately responding to the scourge of violent crime. If we wish to forge a peaceful and co-operative society, such activity cannot be condoned. It destroys the lives not just of its victims, but their families too. Victims and their families must be considered first, but executions do little for them, simply perpetuating the cycle of violence and creating more victims and mourners.
Instead, we need adequate and efficient state compensation and support networks to help those left behind rebuild their lives. They should be able to rest easy knowing that the perpetrators of those crimes have undergone a fair trial and have been sentenced to life imprisonment- the real meaning of life - without parole, an option that avoids further violence against either victim or criminal, and recognises that the essence of punishment should be rehabilitation.
Most importantly, to avoid creating more victims in the long term, we must identify and combat the root causes of crime. The state has a central role to play in this.
As Ugandans seek to establish a peaceful and non-violent society, by answering murder with murder, the state institutionalises violence, and condones it as an appropriate response. As Mahatma Gandhi put it, "an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind".Ms Munton is an intern working with Foundation for Human Rights Initiative
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