The Principle of lex talionis

Proponents of the death penalty attempt to justify their stand on the principle of lex talionis or ‘eye-for-an-eye’ which advocates that violence must in some measure be answered by violence or that the punishment should fit the crime. They believe that such retribution serves justice to murder victims and their survivors. Just as the individual do not have the right to kill, society also should not be empowered to kill. The retribution theory would dictate that the rapist be raped and the house of the arsonist be set on fire.

Such a policy would go against the basic tenets of justice. If violence can be justified by violence than it follows that every act of violence whether perpetuated by the state or the individual would be justifiable on some ground or the other. Retribution in kind would bring the state down to the level of the criminal. There would then be no distinction between the dispenser of the law and the one who violates it. Misuse of the Death Penalty Misuse of the death penalty is another reason that calls for its abolition.

In the political context, the death penalty has often been used to eliminate opponents and suppress popular uprisings. Here, the question of fairness in making the judgment becomes a very subjective one. What is punishable by death for one political regime could very well be deemed a heroic act of valor for another. The labeling of the act therefore depends very much on the actors and the circumstances and the environment in which they operate. That is the reason why people who are executed are often subsequently turned into martyrs.

It happened in Hitler’s Germany, in India and in South Africa. It is happening in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Serbia and in many other places wherever two groups of people look at the world with conflicting perspectives. Take the example of Saddam Hussien. Richard Dicker’s, director of Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Program, was a rational voice when he said , “Saddam Hussein was responsible for massive human rights violations, but that can’t justify giving him the death penalty, which is a cruel and inhuman punishment.

” (Human Rights Watch, 2006) A November 2006 report by Human Rights Watch pointed out numerous serious flaws in the trial of Saddam Hussein. Among other defects, the report found that Iraqi government actions had all along undermined the Iraqi High Tribunal and threatened its independence and perceived impartiality. Handing Saddam Hussein the death penalty has been viewed by a large section of the world as a measure made necessary by the prevailing political and military situation rather than a quest for justice.

There is also a very strong view in the United States that the application of the death sentence is racially discriminatory. Studies have been conducted to examine the relationship between race and death penalty in all the states that where the death penalty is still active. The Capital Punishment Project (2007) reports that 96% studies found a pattern of either race-of-victim or race-of-defendant discrimination. Of those executed since 1976, approximately 35% have been black, even though blacks constitute only 12% of the population.

It has been found that the odds of receiving a death sentence are almost four times higher if the defendant is black. The Amnesty International (2003) has also asserted that races does have an impact on capital punishment, and that the judicial system of the United States have been able to do precious little about it. Amnesty International has attributed this failure of the courts and legislatures of the USA to act decisively at the face of evidence that race has an impact on the death sentence to a collective ‘blind faith’ that America will never waver on the ‘non-negotiable’ demands of human dignity including ‘equal justice. ’