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Death Penalty Information

Monday, December 11, 2006

Rwanda: Substitute Death Penalty with Restorative Justice
Substitute Death Penalty With Restorative Justice

The on going debate on the proposed lifting of the death penalty has
fetched mixed responses.
The survivors of genocide see it as the victory for those who orchestrated
the 1994 Genocide while the convicts and their families see it as being
long overdue. This is not surprising to majority of Rwandans. It was
anticipated. However, facts on the ground should help people digest and
take a firm and reasonable stand on this paradoxical issue of justice in
Opposing the death penalty
The execution of the death penalty has been a topic of debate for many
years. There are two parties who argue whether or not it is a fitting and
adequate punishment, whether or not it acts as a deterrent to crime and
whether or not it is morally wrong.
The main reasons in support of the death penalty include deterring others
and to duly punish crime committed. They are most concerned with the
protection of society from dangerous criminals. Those who support it,
subscribers to the "an eye for an eye" principle, feel that execution is
the only way to satisfy the public as well as themselves. They feel much
the same way about murderers who are sentenced to die. As far as they are
concerned, the criminal brought his punishment upon himself.
This section of people do not see the death penalty as being morally
wrong. For them, the most likely source of constitutional difficulty with
capital punishment is the prohibition against "cruel and unusual
punishment". In fact, some consider execution to be more humane than life
imprisonment because it is quick and instantaneous.
And this is where the contradiction comes in. Imprisonment is seen as an
insufficient safeguard against the future actions of criminals because it
offers the possibility of escape and release on parole. "We think that
some criminals must be made to pay for their crimes with their lives, and
we think that we, the survivors they violated, may legitimately extract
that payment because we, too, are their victims," a remark from a survivor
of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Contrary to popular belief, the death penalty does not act as a deterrent
to crime. "Expert after expert and study after study have emphasised the
lack of correlation between the threat of the death penalty and the
occurrence of violent crime," an Isaac Ehrlich's study on the deterrent
effect of capital punishment in America revealed. The absence of
deterrence is clearly shown in Rwanda where after execution of some key
genocide convicts, the very orchestrators of the genocide, actually
continued the killings.
Abolitionists believe that the offender should be required to compensate
the victim's family with the his/her own income from employment or
community service. There is no doubt that someone can do more alive than
dead. By working, the criminal inadvertently "pays back" society and also
their victim and/or the victim's family. There is no reason for the
criminal to receive any compensation for his work. That is why Rwanda's
release of prisoners to serve in public interest was upheld by the
international community.
Supporting the death penalty
Abolitionists consider the death penalty an insufficient form of
punishment because it is cruel and inhumane, there is no proof that it
deters violent crime, it can be inflicted upon innocentpeople of any
crime, the costly process of appealing gives the death penalty a hefty
price tag and with it, the chance to make restitution to the victim and/or
the victim's family does not exist.
The essence of the abolitionist perspective is this: "The death penalty
has been a gross failure. Beyond its horror and incivility, it has neither
protected the innocent nor deterred the wicked. The recurrent spectacle of
publicly sanctioned killing has cheapened human life and dignity without
the redeeming grace which comes from justice meted out swiftly, evenly,
There is debate within Rwanda's criminal justice system about the moral
status of the death penalty. The survivors hold that the death penalty is
justified; convicts and their families as well as the International
Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) argue that it is not.
Death penalty is justified from either a retributive or a utilitarian
framework, sometimes using both theories for a combined justification.
Abolitionists reject these contentions arguing that the principle of the
sanctity of human life gives each person an inalienable right to life and
thus prohibits imposition of the death penalty. Scientific research and
technological developments provide modest contributions to both arguments.
Rwanda's position on justice after the genocide has been mainly that of
ushering restorative justice. Whatever other description there may be for
restorative justice, at its heart it is a movement of hope and
non-violence. It contains the possibility of offering people traumatised
by crime or caught up as the offended, a positive hope filled and
respectful way forward.
The media and the community consistently rage against the violence so
prevalent in our society. In as much as restorative justice helps people
take responsibility for their actions, initiates a healing process and
offers a way forward, it undermines the very core of that violence by
providing a non-violent respectful way of procuring justice. It should be
welcomed as a genuine breakthrough in the resolution of conflict and in
the creation of justice. It is justice that matters, justice that everyone
wants. Restorative processes will deliver better justice.
Looking to restorative justice
In as much as it works towards the restoration of dignity of those
affected, it is an essential part of the modern peace movement. Creating
international peace built on justice among nations is a priority for all
people of good will. But building domestic peace has not had the same high
profile. Yet it is of equal importance. Many would argue that without one
you cannot have the other. Conflict resolution at a domestic level
(Gacaca) surely is the proper platform from which to build peace
As the theologian Walter Wink points out, the myth of redemptive violence
has been the choice of every major social grouping of the 20th century be
it socialist, Marxist, capitalist or communist. This concept enshrines the
belief that violence saves, that war brings peace and that might makes
right. Nations have made redemptive violence the acceptable way of
resolving injustice. Internationally, if nations have had a grievance it
has been resolved either by the threat or use of violence. Most of the
destruction, mayhem and death were justified as being right and just. Only
violence would correct (redeem) the injustice.
The results of this redemptive violence have been horrendous. We have just
emerged from the most bloodthirsty century in history, with hundreds of
millions of innocent people killed in its name.
We have applied the same philosophy and approach to domestic conflict,
especially crime. 'Beat them and beat them hard', has been the catchphrase
through the ages as well as 'Lock 'em up (an act of violence) and throw
away the key', with the hope that this violence would somehow redeem the
situation and produce justice; It rarely, if ever, does. And so more and
more prisons have been built and, while flogging and execution have been
reduced or abandoned, the culture of state violence has remained.
Restorative justice is a movement of non-violence. It provides a mature
human response to complex situations of conflict and crimes like genocide.
It does not necessarily provide a solution either. But it is a process
that respects those involved and enhances the families and communities to
which they belong. It recognises that violence is unacceptable and
provides a non-violent but challenging and positive way of proceeding.
Restorative justice appeals to the better side of human nature and not the
destructive, vengeful dark side. It is a movement of hope. The government
is showing imagination and courage in promoting some restorative justice
processes through Gacaca courts. It is vital the best people get to run
these pilots. But this is not just another government project.
The success of the courts is dependent on community ownership and
acceptance and a passion for better forms of justice. Without these three
things, they will not succeed.
The abolition of the death penalty in this country will not happen because
of a few people calling for change from the safety of academia or
government departments. It will happen because people in the country with
vision dreamt of a better way forward, committed themselves to it,
regardless of the time, cost or energy involved. The success will depend
on how much they educate the community and force the vested interests to
shift their focus.
What is now required is a genuine working and respectful partnership
between the Government, the Courts and the community. Such a partnership
involves mutual trust and recognition of the gifts that differing parties
bring to the process. The move forward cannot be left in the hands of one
sector only. Each has something important to offer.
The Government must bring political will to bear and provide leadership
and that is all. It is in the community that restorative justice will
succeed or fail. It is people from the community who, when trained, will
make the best facilitators and provide the best resource networks.
(source: Opinion, The New Times)
The views expressed in these pages are those of individual AI campaigners or researchers, and do not necessarily reflect official AI policy.