'Death penalty turns terrorists to martyrs'

'Death penalty turns terrorists to martyrs'
Though it stopped short of recommending abolishing death sentence for terror cases owing to concerns raised by lawmakers, Law Commission has said there is “no evidence” to suggest that capital punishment act as a deterrent to terrorism or insurgency.

It also reminded the political leadership that the road to abolition is not always a function of public opinion and many countries have abolished death penalty “at a time when public opinion may not have necessarily supported this position”.

“The concept of death penalty as a deterrent to terrorism needs a re-look. Death penalty can rarely be deterrent for terror related cases since most of them come on a suicide-mission. By giving death penalty, we play into their hands and vindicate their political motives. We turn criminal into martyrs. The theatrics involved in hanging attract public towards even the minor players. When Bali bombers were being executed, they were beaming as if they have got awards,” Commission Chairman Justice (Retd) A P Shah told reporters.

In its report, the 20th Law Commission said, “There is no evidence of a link between fighting insurgency, terror or violent crime, and the need for the death penalty. Several countries have abolished the death penalty, or maintained moratoriums on executions, despite facing civil wars, threats of insurgency or terrorist attacks."

The panel cited Nepal and Sri Lanka as examples. Nepal officially abolished the death penalty in 1990 and did not re-introduce it even in the aftermath of Maoist insurgency while Sri Lanka, despite a long civil war, has maintained a moratorium on death penalty.

“Israel has only executed once since its formation. Most European countries remain abolitionist despite facing terrorism within their national boundaries, e.g, the UK, France, and Spain. In fact, it is relevant to note that the UK abolished the death penalty at a time when the Irish Republican Army, a revolutionary military organisation, was particularly active in the country,” it said.

Arguing the case for death penalty abolition, the panel said several developing countries do not use the death penalty and cited countries like Rwanda, Senegal, Solomon Islands, Djibouti, Togo, Haiti and Guinea-Bissau, which has “Low Human Development” index.
“A country’s decision to abolish or retain the death penalty is not necessarily linked to its socio-economic or development profile. Rather, political will and leadership are key,” the panel said.

In 1980, the Supreme Court noted that 18 countries have abolished death penalty while now it has grown to 140 countries. “There is a clear trend towards abolition in international law and state practice across the globe. India continues to sentence individuals to death and execute them, and has also opposed all five General Assembly resolutions on a moratorium,” the panel said.

In doing so, it added, India keeps company with a minority of countries who retain the death penalty, and an even smaller number who actually carry out executions, a list that includes China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
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