Sunday, 19 September, 2021

Do Rapists Deserve Death Penalty?

Birendra Madai

A few days ago, the Bangladeshi government approved a law related to death penalty for rapists. With mushrooming rape cases across Nepal, many women parliamentarians and activists, too, have ignited a debate to lobby for stricter rape laws, including the provision of death penalty for rapists.
A study conducted by Nepal Police found that rape cases swiftly rose to 2,144 in the fiscal year 2019/20 from 1,480 in 2017/18. This data clearly reflects the pathetic scene that violence against women has been showing an upward trend despite creating massive public awareness against it through using the latest and sophisticated tools of communication technology.
There arises an important question: Can strict laws like capital penalty contain the number of rape cases? We had a long history when death penalty was a major tool to curb vigorous and dreadful crimes. Government authorities, from time to time, have stressed the success of abolition of death penalty as a major achievement of post reestablishment of the democracy era and attributed it to conscious effort of stakeholders, including political leaders, civil society, human rights defenders and the media.
In various international forums, Nepal has reiterated its stance on ending death penalty globally to ensure right to life. This right is inscribed as a fundamental right in our constitution.
Legal reforms were introduced in 1946 to eliminate capital punishment for crimes under state's common law. However, Nepal saw its last execution only in 1979 and eventually full abolition, with a constitutional amendment coming into force on November 9, 1991.
Nepal ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1991 and later its second optional protocol with a goal of abolishing death penalty. Several political changes and legal reforms had triggered an abolitionist agenda, including amendment to the National Code in1964.
Previously, capital punishment was given to people at the whims of the Rana rulers or kings. So, Article 12 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal 1990 explicitly prohibited capital punishment to make sure that no innocent life is taken by the abuse of authority.
Many intellectuals and human right activists are against restoring the provision of death penalty. They say that people clamouring for capital punishment are being driven by emotions. However, a majority of people hold a quite different view.
A US based poll had 84 percent respondents voting yes for death for rapists. Merely making the punishment harsher may not bear fruits unless and until the authorities responsible for looking into crimes fail to do their job in a fair manner. Perpetrators should be brought to justice irrespective of their connections.
Likewise, a closed and fast track hearing process that saves the victim from being harassed should be in place. More women-friendly law could also be another measure. Legal experts argue that certainty of punishment rather than severity will ensure that lesser crimes are committed.
Public awareness should be raised about eliminating the stigma associated with rape by creating a favourable environment for rape victims to speak up and report the crime. To assure justice, courts and other agencies fighting crimes should work in close coordination.
Revenge, as anti-death penalty advocates term it barbaric, can never be a solution if we adopt a justice system that is both retributive and reformative. Mahatma Gandhi rightly said, "An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind."