Death penalty: a road paved with torture

Already, in 1957 French philosopher Albert Camus wrote “what then is capital punishment but the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal's deed, however calculated it may be, can be compared? For there to be equivalence, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not encountered in private life.”

Today, 74 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Camus’ concern is widely adopted, and the worldwide abolition of the death penalty is closer to becoming a reality than ever before. A steadily increasing number of countries around the world and in Africa are realising that the abolition of death penalty contributes to the enhancement of human dignity and the progressive development of a society's human rights. It is a well-documented fact that the death penalty has failed as a deterrent, anytime and anywhere.

In fact, positive steps towards the abolition of the death penalty have been taken in most African countries, including Malawi. Today, out of the 55 African Union member States, 25 have abolished the death penalty in law, 15 are applying a long-term moratorium on executions while 15 retain capital punishment.

This year’s World Day against the Death Penalty reflects on the relationship between death penalty and torture, and other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment, and it highlights how people who face the possibility of being sentenced to death - or who have already endured the pronouncement of this devastating verdict - experience the time they spend on death row as torture even in a context where a moratorium is applied.

Conditions on death row and the anguish of facing execution inflict extreme psychological and physical suffering. Execution is a physical and mental assault. A death sentence denies any possibility of rehabilitation. The death penalty creates unjustifiable pain for everyone who encounters it: particularly the relatives of the person sentenced to death, including their children, to whom it causes grave trauma. The death penalty is counterproductive, because by instituting the killing of a human being as a criminal solution, the death penalty endorses the idea of murder rather than fighting it.

So, as we remind ourselves that passing the sentence of death on a person amounts to torture, we may start to see the death penalty in a new light. Building on the widely shared conviction that torture should be banished, we may mentally take the logical next step and agree that in a similar vein, the death penalty should be abolished as an unjust and cruel response to crime.

Malawi, as a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), has made great strides in demonstrating national, regional and international leadership on criminal justice and human rights. The country has upheld de facto moratorium on the Death Penalty since 1992. However, Courts in Malawi continue to sentence people to death. And while the moratorium is widely regarded as a first and significant step towards abolishment of the death penalty, to the person on death row the sentence passed still amounts to torture.

In 2021, Malawi won a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the first time since the UNHRC was formed in 2006. During its time as a member, Malawi will be uniquely placed to spearhead further steps and be regarded as a beacon of human rights in Africa and beyond.

This is why we take the opportunity of the World Day against the Death Penalty to encourage Malawi to pursue the progressive course that it began in 1992, and to take the final step in considering abolishing the death penalty. No country in the world has ever taken the decision to abolish the death penalty as a result of popular pressure. Taking this decision requires conviction, and leadership.

The EU strongly feels that death penalty is inhumane. No justice system is safe from judicial error and innocent people are likely to be sentenced to death or executed. It is unfair. The death penalty is applied discriminatorily and is often used disproportionately against people who are poor, sometimes against people with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities, and in some instances members of racial and ethnic minority groups.

It is for these reasons that today, on the occasion of the European and World Day against the Death Penalty, the EU wishes to reiterate its strong and unequivocal opposition to the use of the death penalty at all times and in all circumstances. Opposition to the death penalty does not mean one is condoning crime. Indeed, anyone found guilty, after a fair trial, of committing a recognisable criminal offence complying with the requirements under international human rights law should be held accountable by the law. However, the punishment should never be death.

EU Delegation to Malawi