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Capital punishment for heinous crime v/s Human Rights

Human right or right to life is a phrase which describes the belief that a human being has essential right to live, particularly a human being has a right not to be killed by another human being on the earth. The concept of a right to life is central to debate on the matters of capital punishment.

Human Rights v. Capital Punishment:

The debate about the death penalty does not employ the terminology of human rights. However the use of death penalty intersects with international law and is also challenged by it. Hence, international law and analysis based on human rights are beneficial means to address the death penalty issue. The reasons why countries have abolished death penalty varies in increasing numbers. For some nations, it was a broader understanding of human rights.

Spain abandoned the last vestiges of the death penalty in 1995 stating that:
the death penalty has no place in the general penal system of an advanced and civilized society. Similarly, Switzerland abolished death penalty because it constituted a flagrant violation of the right to the life of dignity

Human Right & International Laws:

Defining the death penalty as a human right issue is a critical step, but some countries which resist aggressively uses death penalty. When United Nation General Assembly considered a resolution in 1994 to restrict death penalties and encourage moratorium on executions, Singapore asserted that capital punishment is not a human right issue. In the end, 74 countries abstained on voting from the resolution and it failed.

However, for many countries death penalty is a critical human right issue. In 1997, the U.N High Commission for Human Rights approved a resolution stating that the abolition of death penalty contributes to the enhancement of human dignity and to the progressive development of human rights. This, resolution was strengthen in subsequent resolutions for the restriction of offences for which the death penalty can be imposed and for moratorium on all executions, leading eventually to abolition. Whereas countries like North Korea, Nigeria believes in Capital punishments.

The Law Commission in its 35th report, said that the risk involved in abolition of capital punishment could not be undertaken in the present state of the country. No single arrangement for abolition or retention can decide the issue.

The report of the convention of International Congress of Criminal Law which was held in New Delhi on 8, 9 and 10th February, 1982 concluded that the general consensus was clearly in favour of retention of death penalty though its use may be restricted to rarest of rare cases. Despite strong plea for abolition by Justice V. R Krishna Iyer, the former judge of the supreme court of India.

The convention justified retention of capital punishment, though to be used sparingly. Inaugurating the Congress Mr. M Hidayatullah, the then vice president of India and former chief justice of the supreme court of India, observed that the doctrine of rarest of rare case evolved in the Indian jurisprudence for the use of death penalty is capable of discounting the possible errors and abuse of the sanction and therefore, a dispassionate approach to this problem in the context of the mounting crime was not necessary.

However, the Supreme Court had in Mithu v. State of Punjab already struck down Section 303 of the IPC, which
Stated that the provision for mandatory punishment of death for offenders serving a life sentence. The reason behind this view is that if the death sentence is mandatory, then there is no point of hearing the offender's side on the question of sentence, and it becomes supplementary to give the reasons for awarding the sentence of death.

The most practicable and representative public opinion of India was very well summed up by our first Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru:
At one time I was strongly opposed to the death penalty and in theory my opposition still continues. And yet with all my repugnance for executions, I feel that some method or eliminating utterly undesirable human being will have to be adopted and used with discretion.

Similarly Mrs. Indira Gandhi stated as:
I am personally in favour of abolition of capital punishment. But certain crimes were heinous in nature and deserved punishments.

Abolishing Capital Punishment by paying tribute to Human right or right to Life of accused is disrespect of Victims right to Life who suffered cruelty. Hence capital punishments only shall be awarded when crime is heinous. In the Nirbhaya Case - 2010 also it was admitted that not giving punishment to culprit will be infringement of Fundamental Right of victims.

Written By Meet Ramaiya
- M.K.E.S College of Law

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