10 October is the International Day against the Death Penalty. Since the end of World War II, there has been a gradual abolition of the death penalty due to the rather obvious recognition that putting a person to death is not justice. Moreover, on practical grounds, the death penalty has little impact on the rate of crime in a country. A number of States have a death penalty for those involved in the drug trade. To the extent that the drug trade can be estimated statistically, the death penalty has no measurable impact on the trade − a trade usually linked to economic or geopolitical factors.
10 October can also be a day to oppose all organized killings by State agents. In addition to State-sponsored official executions, usually carried out publicly or at least with official observers, a good number of countries have State-sponsored “death squads” − persons affiliated to the police or to intelligence agencies who kill “in the dark of the night” − unofficially. These deaths avoid a trial that might attract attention or even a “not guilty” decision. A shot in the back of the head is faster. The number of “targeted killings” has grown. In many cases, the bodies of those killed are destroyed and so death is supposed but not proved, as has been the case of students protesting in Mexico. US assassinations with drones have also been highlighted both in the United Nations human rights bodies and domestically. However, the drone “strikes” continue, and there is very little legislative opposition.
A good deal of recent concern has been expressed on the death sentence in Saudi Arabia pronounced against Ali al−Nimr found guilty “of going out to a number of marches, demonstrations, and gatherings against the state and repeating some chants against the state” when he was 15 years old. He is to die by crucifixion. There is perhaps some chance of a change of penalty due to more historically minded Saudis. The most widely known person crucified is Jesus. As the Roman count records have been lost, we have only the account written by his friends who stressed that he was innocent of the crimes for which he was condemned. His crucifixion has taken on cosmic dimensions. “Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?” The Saudis try to avoid some of the Jesus parallel by beheading the person before putting the rest of the body on the cross, but the image of the crucified as innocent is wide spread.
10 October is an occasion for us to stress the importance of human dignity. Our efforts against executions need to be addressed both to governments and to those state-like non-governmental armed groups such as ISIS in Syria and Iraq. The abolition of executions and the corresponding valuation of human life are necessary steps in developing a just world society.
René Wadlow, a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and of its Task Force on the Middle East, is president and U.N. representative (Geneva) of the Association of World Citizens and editor of Transnational Perspectives. He is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 12 October 2015.