The death penalty is not a good deterrent

The death penalty is not a good deterrent

I am in Taiwan on a mission on behalf of the Global Committee for the Rule of Law, a Rome-based association named after the late Marco Pannella, an Italian civil rights leader and member of the European Parliament. The committee is chaired by former Italian minister of foreign affairs, Senator Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata.

Having learned that the Constitutional Court of Taiwan is to spend several months deliberating the issue of the death penalty and its legality, my mind rushed back to the international movement that led to the adoption of a UN moratorium on capital punishment in 2007.

Back in 1993, Pannella established an association called Hands Off Cain to convince the Italian government and other cosponsors to introduce a resolution at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) promoting a one-year moratorium on all capital punishment.

Fourteen years later, the resolution was presented at the UNGA and the vote was successful. Fourteen years of debating, lobbying MPs and governments, collecting statistical evidence and negotiating over two main messages: First, the death penalty is not a reliable deterrent. Second, the goal was not immediate abolition, but rather an official one-year moratorium to be renewed on a yearly basis until the time was ripe for full abolition.

In 2007, the UNGA adopted the moratorium with 104 votes in favor while 54 opposed, and it has taken a vote every two years ever since. In 2022, when the last vote took place, the number of states in favor increased to 125 and the number of those who opposed fell to 37.

Since 2007, the adoption has seen major progress and reveals a clear trend: It is striking that the US still votes in favor of capital punishment alongside autocracies like Iran, Iraq, North Korea and China. If it was possible for Taiwan to join the UN, one could only wonder how Taipei would instruct its representatives ahead of the vote for a moratorium in the assembly of the international community.

Indeed, the evidence collected in countries where no executions were carried out for several years showed that crime rates were not impacted significantly. “The murder rate in non-death penalty states has remained consistently lower than the rate in states with the death penalty,” the Death Penalty Information Center said.

As Virginia Democratic state assembly member Marcus Simon said during a debate to abolish the death penalty in the US state, “the government should not be in the business of killing human beings.” Deterrence could also be achieved through alternative measures, including life imprisonment. It would also rule out the possibility of executing an innocent defendant.

Sure, societies present many differences. However, by saying “no” to violence, the state becomes the guardian of life under all circumstances. It sets a concrete example and sends the message that killing has no place in any society. With the exception of one execution carried out in 2020, Taiwan has not put anybody to death for about a decade. Thus, it seems to me that a de facto moratorium is already in place. If the majority of Taiwanese are still in favor of the death penalty, a process of familiarization with a hypothetical reform might be underway.

Should change come, the adoption of a moratorium — to be confirmed or suspended on a one-year basis — is a path worth exploring. It is also a democratic path that nurtures the rule of law that Taiwan proudly embodies.

Read the original article by Matteo Angioli on the Taipei Times