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Capital punishment important symbolic response to murder
The current discussion of capital punishment should keep these points in mind: European countries are opposed to capital punishment because it is prohibited by the European Convention of Human Rights, a binding human rights treaty to which they have subscribed. The Privy Council, our final court of appeal, therefore, is unanimously opposed to it. We are not a European country, and have not subscribed to the European Convention. Interestingly, a large number of European citizens (especially in the UK) support it because of the increasing violence in their societies. We are a relatively small, young nation with limited resources struggling to build the institutional framework to establish stability and democracy. Our society is literally at war with individual and organised crime, but our institutional infrastructure lacks the resources and unifying moral character to deal effectively with crime. Statistics can certainly be used to show that capital punishment is not a deterrent to crime. But statistics only show correlations with known crimes, the tip of an iceberg.
How many conspiracies or intended murders will have been deterred cannot be known. Moreover, it is the collective and unified array of forces against crime that is the effective deterrent—not merely capital punishment. This criticism of capital punishment thus applies equally to the Government’s crime-fighting strategy and the efficiency of our police force. It is our weak crime-fighting organisational structure and several cultural flaws encou- raging and tolerating crime and violence that are at the root of crime and violence. For the foreseeable future capital punishment will remain an important symbolic response to murders that horrify and frighten citizens, and destabilise our society. It will have effectively deterred one murderer.
Moreover, a convicted gangster-murderer would no longer be able to get his criminal colleagues on the outside to engage in reprisal murders and other crimes. Pragmatism, not idealism, must be in the forefront of discussions. The abolition of capital punishment is a desirable ideal. Like the ideal of democracy, it will be realised gradually, but in accordance with gradually evolving standards of decency in T&T. Our society must have the moral strength and maturity to look at itself critically and determine in what ways our culture contributes to crime and violence. But there is always the horrible possibility of executing an innocent person. If capital punishment is retained, it should not be mandatory; the judge and the Mercy Committee should be able to exercise discretion in a given case. Every effort must be made to protect the innocent.
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