10/31/2014 03:44 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Sentencing the Death Sentence to Death

By seeking to sentence Lee Jun-Seok, captain of the ill-fated ferry that sank in April killing 304 persons, to death, are South Korean prosecutors seeking justice or merely pandering to the lust for revenge?


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According to Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment". Death penalty, the ultimate form of cruel punishment, has no place in a modern, progressive criminal justice system. From the dark medieval ages that sentenced condemned prisoners to macabre gladiator fights to the present day, we have time and again attempted to make death penalty appear civilized and bloodless by changing the method of execution from beheading to hanging to lethal injection. But there are no humane executions; even death by the needle --considered the most "civilized" way of performing the barbaric act of taking away a life, often ends in an agonizing execution, such as in the case of Clayton Locket of Oklahoma, who writhed in pain over for over 30 minutes before dying of a heart attack. Recent medical evidence suggests that even prisoners who did not show visible signs of pain during execution by lethal injection could have actually felt pain, but been unable to indicate them because of a muscle relaxant used in the drug cocktail.

Proponents of death penalty believe that the "eye for an eye" approach deters crime, and is the only way to provide justice to those affected by heinous crimes. They are wrong on both counts. Firstly, there is no conclusive evidence that the death penalty deters crime. According to a study published by the University of Colorado, over 88 percent of criminologists believe that the death penalty does not deter crime. Secondly, as capital cases slowly wind their way through the legal system often taking decades, the agony of victim's families are only prolonged. The tax payer money spent on the lengthy legal process is better spent in providing counseling and other support to survivors (including family members of the prisoner who may have lost their sole breadwinner -- they are victims too).

The desire for retribution against hardened criminals may be understandable if not justified, but the mere thought of a state-sponsored killing of an innocent person is morally repugnant. Justice systems around the world are flawed and wrongful convictions occur more often than we would like to believe: the Innocence project, a U.S. based non-profit dedicated to exonerating the wrongfully convicted, has exonerated over 300 persons including eighteen from death row; in India 14 eminent retired judges wrote to the President pointing out that fifteen people on death row had been wrongfully convicted. The possibility of miscarriage of justice, resulting in a wrongful and irrevocable punishment to an innocent person, is on its own sufficient to make the case for abolition of the death penalty.

The global trend towards abolition of capital punishment is encouraging. According to Amnesty International, 140 countries -- more than two thirds of the world, have abolished the death penalty, de jure or de facto. It is time the remaining countries, especially democracies like the United States, recognize that the cruel and inhuman punishment is a blot on civilized societies, and sentence the death sentence to death.