By Amnesty International India,
To read the full report of the Law Commission, click here
New Delhi (Press Statement/1st September 15): The Indian government must heed the findings of a Law Commission report on the unfairness of the death penalty in India and immediately abolish it for all crimes, Amnesty International India said today.
On 31 August, the Law Commission of India submitted a report to the Ministry of Law and Justice, in which it said that the administration of the death penalty in India is fallible, vulnerable to misapplication, and disproportionately used against socially and economically marginalized people. â€œThe death penalty therefore remains an irreversible punishment in an imperfect, fragile and fallible system,â€ it said. The Commission stated that it hoped â€œthe movement towards absolute abolition will be swift and irreversible.â€Â
â€œThe Law Commissionâ€™s report is a vital step forward in the debate around the death penalty in India,â€ said Aakar Patel, Executive Director of Amnesty International India.
â€œThe Commission debunks many of the myths surrounding the death penalty. Although the report stops short of recommending complete abolition, Parliament must seize this opportunity to show political leadership and abolish capital punishment.â€
â€œAs the report says, the government has the power to lead public opinion, and indeed an obligation to do so on issues of human dignity and equality.â€
The Commission recommended that the death penalty be abolished for all crimes other than â€˜terrorism-related offences and waging warâ€™. However it pointed out that â€œthere is no evidence of a link between fighting insurgency, terror or violent crime, and the need for the death penaltyâ€. Citing examples including Nepal and Sri Lanka, it says, â€œSeveral countries have abolished the death penalty, or maintained moratoriums on executions, despite facing civil wars, threats of insurgency or terrorist attacks.â€
The Commission also notes that â€œa countryâ€™s decision to abolish or retain the death penalty is not necessarily linked to its socioeconomic or development profileâ€ and that â€œthe road to abolition is not always a function of public opinion.â€
In emphasizing the arbitrariness and inconsistency in how the death penalty is imposed in India, the Commission quotes Supreme Court judgements which say that death sentences have been â€œarbitrarily and freakishly imposedâ€, and notes that there is large variation between states in the rate of imposition of death sentences for murder. It concludes that â€œthere exists no principled method to remove such arbitrariness from capital sentencing.â€ The Commission also observes that the disposal of mercy petitions is vitiated by â€œgross procedural violations and non-application of mindâ€, making the death penalty â€œindefensibleâ€.
The Commission states that the death penalty does not achieve any constitutionally valid penological goals, including deterrence or retribution. â€œReliance on the death penalty diverts attention from other problems ailing the criminal justice system such as poor investigation, crime prevention and rights of victims of crimeâ€, it says. It recommends various measures to improve the criminal justice system, including police reforms, improved witness protection and compensation to victims.
â€œThe Law Commission points out that in nearly a quarter of the cases in which the Supreme Court has recently given the death penalty, it has done so in errorâ€, said Aakar Patel.
â€œIndiaâ€™s gamble with this lethal lottery needs to stop now.â€