The Time Is Now To Abolish The Death Penalty In The Mano River Union Basin
In December 2007 the UN General Assembly adopted its first resolution "Moratorium on the use of the death penalty" (62/149), reaffirming the UN’s commitment towards abolition of the death penalty. That resolution was adopted by 104 votes in favor, 54 against and 29 abstentions.
According to Amnesty International, its opposition to the death penalty is based on the fact that 'the death penalty is irrevocable and there is always a chance that innocent men and women will be executed in any country that maintains this punishment. The death penalty is inherently arbitrary and discriminates against those who are poor, marginalized or belong to minority communities."
As a matter of record, the European Parliament is a long-standing opponent of the death penalty, and is actively engaged in the international campaign against the death penalty and has passed several resolutions including its annual human rights reports to reaffirm its opposition to the death penalty.
In Articles 6(1) and 6(2) of the UN Human Rights Committee's International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) of the UN General Assembly, it states that "Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.
2. In countries which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes in accordance with the law in force at the time of the commission of the crime and not contrary to the provisions of the present Covenant and to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This penalty can only be carried out pursuant to a final judgment rendered by a competent court..." Many countries reject the argument that imposition of the death penalty is a violation of human rights and argue that their judicial institutions and criminal justice system reflect their own sovereignty, religious and social beliefs.
Strangely, the Protocols of the sub-regional grouping the ECONOMIC COMMUNITY OF WEST AFRICAN STATES (ECOWAS) of which the countries of the Mano River Union (MRU) Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and La Cote d'Ivoire are members, are silent on the treatment of the death penalty among member countries.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, meeting at its 44th Ordinary Session held in Abuja, Nigeria, from 10 to 24 November 2008 adopted a resolution calling on African States to observe a moratorium on the death penalty. According to the African Commission, the following Africa countries still retain the death penalty: Botswana, Cameroon, Chad, Comoros, Congo (Democratic Republic), Egypt, Equatorial Guinea;,Ethiopia, Guinea, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
The Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Administration in Liberia, whose authority is being challenged by out of control incidences of rape and armed robbery reverted to the promulgation of a law reintroducing the death penalty. In late July, 2008, the European Union, consistent with its opposition to the death penalty, scolded Liberia, saying "...such a decision to reintroduce the death penalty is an extremely disturbing signal which runs counter to the trend observed for many years in Africa and in the world as a whole."
The death penalty law remains active today in Liberia.
The use of the death penalty both in practice and in law in some African countries including the Mano River Union basin, for that matter, has moral, ethical, religious, social, medical, retributive and legal consequences which have not been fully understood or addressed by various governments and their criminal justice systems.
The argument for the maintenance of the death penalty is well noted by proponents who say that in some instances, the imposition of the death penalty is appropriate for individuals or groups of individuals who have committed some the most heinous crimes so much so that separating them from this world is the best alternative for society and human kind. And would one respond today to calls for the death penalty for African despots and rebel groups including Idi Amin Dada, Jean Bedel Bokassa, Charles Taylor and the National Patriotic Front, Foday Sankoh and the Revolutionary United Front, Omar Al Bashir, Mengistu Haile Merriam, Hissen Habre and Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army rebels,
The argument for the respect and dignity of human life as moral, ethical and religious imperatives is preeminently couched in the following statement by a Jesuit Priest and Community Professor of the Humanities at St. Peter's College, News Jersey, USA Raymond A. Schroth, who says, "The traditional justification for both the death penalty and just war is the right of self-defense. That is the only justification. Not that the killer is someone who, as a killer, 'deserves to die.' He remains a human being with a right to die only when God calls him."
The leaders of the Mano River Union countries - Presidents Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Ernest Bai Koroma, Laurent Gbagbo and Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, whose people have lived in a culture of death, have a moral and ethical responsibility to shape the attitude of their peoples to respect for the dignity of every human life. These leaders and others must realize that the use of the death penalty as a practice and as a matter of law intricately and adversely impact the realization of national and regional stability, respect for the rule of law, socio and economic development and the advancement of African civilization.
Once and for all, the Mano River countries have an obligation to abolish the death penalty.
About the Author: Emmanuel Abalo is an exiled Liberian journalist, media and human rights activist and a former Acting President of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL). He now resides in Pennsylvania, USA. He serves as News Director of WRAR-96 internet radio on www.runningafrica.com.