Capital Punishment: Listen to the voice of the silenced

BY Fr J.C. Pieris, Galle (Island Opinion Page)

This blogger (TW) is sure no-one against CP will contest or cannot counter-argue  the facts and justifications given by the author Fr J.C. Pieris. 

The discussion on the Capital Punishment (CP) has come to the fore again. I do not take seriously the statements of the President. I do not think anybody takes him seriously either. But the whole issue of the CP is important and we must look at it from all the angles possible. And that’s what I tried to do in the 26/09/2016 article in The Island with the above title. This is the same article with some improvements and a few changes. This is not in defense of people who are for the CP or against those who do not want it implemented. For me this is not a purely academic exercise, I won’t deny that some feelings and emotions are involved, but it’s a search for a just conclusion, not a travesty of justice, in an extremely complex issue.

A number of articles have appeared in various media outlets about CP. Most of them are against CP, the death penalty. Everybody is busy talking about the murderer, his/her psyche, social upbringing or lack of it, rights, dignity, needs, urges, etc., very easily forgetting the victim for s/he is out of sight and silent. Just because the victim has lost her/his life does not mean s/he has lost all rights. We recognize the dead person’s rights when we honour her/his last will and testament. So, let us listen to the voice of the silenced.

Though the Gospel of Jesus Christ says ‘love your enemy…’ and the Dhammapada of the Buddha says ‘hatred is not vanquished by hatred …’ in natural justice the punishment is not an act of hatred or vengeance. It is simply restorative. A tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye (The Law of Moses) does not mean hatred in any way. If I steal one lakh from you I must restore it to you first and then request forgiveness from you to make peace with you. Simply pardoning without restoration is nonsense. Even though positive restoration is not possible in the case of murder we must recognize negative restoration, or depriving, not as vengeance but as natural justice.

The Right to Life (R2L) is universally accepted. But when a murderer denies that right to his victim he has refused it to all humanity including self. Nobody can give him what he does not want. When a murderer, found guilty beyond all reasonable doubt, is given the CP, his R2L is not violated, for he has none.

If a murderer can get away with his life intact after depriving it to another, what we have is the law of the jungle – might is right – for the victim was the weaker one; otherwise s/he would have fought back in self defense. And the victims very often are women, children or if men outnumbered or unarmed. The abolition of CP is returning to the jungle law, might is right.

There is another injustice in the non implementation of CP. The murderers and others convicted of crimes deserving CP are boarded, lodged and protected from all harm in the government ‘hostel’. The bills are paid by us, the innocent, decent citizens of the country. In other words, we are punished for the crimes of these inhuman, uncivilized criminals. This is blatantly unjust.

Those who do not want the implementation of CP should be asked whether they would volunteer to pay the national penitentiary bills and free others from that burden or unfair ‘punishment’. If not, according to their logic of ‘humane’ treatment of criminals deserving CP, and in justice absolving innocent citizens from the punishment of paying the penitentiary bills, it will mean releasing those anti social elements back in to society so that they can gleefully carry on with their murdering, contract killing, raping, child abusing, drug trafficking, etc., to their hearts’ content. When a released convict, however well he may have been reformed and rehabilitated, kills again (which more often than not has happened.) the anti-CP crowd must remember that they too have blood on their hands. In fact, if the murderer is truly, deeply and sincerely remorseful s/he will ask for the implementation of the death penalty.

Who has the right to pardon a murderer? Is it the president of the country or the highest judicial authority of the land? No, nobody has the right and the privilege of pardoning a murderer except the victim. (TW’s Spot Comment:  This is exactly what  Islam says) And in history there are two instances when the victim pardoned the killer/s. The first is Jesus Christ and the second is Mahatma Gandhi. In the case of Mahatma, Nehru and Gandhi’s sons requested that the death penalty for the assassin be commuted to life imprisonment as Gandhi was against CP and it goes against all he believed in. Two days prior to his assassination Gandhi had said: “If I am to die by the bullet of a mad man, I must do so smiling. There must be no anger within me. God must be in my heart and on my lips.” But the Indian courts hanged Godse, the assassin, anyway. The person who calls for the abolition of CP must be a Christ or a Buddha or a Mahatma; for only a person who wishes to unconditionally pardon one’s own assassin, who wishes to offer no resistance to the evil intentions of the assassin or the attacker, who is absolutely non-defensive, non-hating and non-violent, who is truly a Gandhian satyagrahi or a fully committed Buddhist/Christian can sincerely call for the abolition of the CP; yet even these great men pardoned only their own murderers; they cannot pardon other victims’ murderers in the world.

And I asked myself the question: will I kill another person in self-defense? My life is the most precious thing I have in the world. I have a duty to protect it. In an extraordinary situation if I am called to sacrifice my life for a Great Cause or to save the people I love, I hope and pray I will be willing and ready to do it. But in normal circumstances if I have no other way of escaping with my life, if it is the last resort, if I am capable, I will not hesitate to kill the person threatening to take my life. Therefore, I am not ready to call for the abolition of CP. For the CP is the self defense of society. Society knows that once a man is a killer he will kill again and again. It gets easier and easier. Nobody knows who will be the next victim, it could be one of my family and it could be me. Killing in self defense, just as in the case of the individual so in the case of society, is justifiable morally, ethically and legally.

Let us also listen to the voice of the people. After the abominable crimes committed against innocent children like Seya, Vidya and Kavindu, people spontaneously came on to the roads and public places demanding that the CP be implemented. Practically all the authors of those articles against CP looked down upon that phenomenon as if it was only a temporary demonstration of the grief of emotionally worked up simple village folk; sort of mob psychology and not to be taken seriously. I do not agree. The people of a nation have a social sixth sense that tells them what is harmful and threatening to their welfare, and even to their survival as a society. They must be taken seriously for it is said that “Vox Populi, Vox Dei” the voice of the people is the voice of God.

There is a great writer, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, famous for his book The Little Prince who agrees with me. He wrote a philosophical work called “The Wisdom of the Sands” (“Citadelle” in French) where a king, wise and noble, instructs his police thus: “Therefore I summoned my police officers before me and said: “You are to judge men’s acts alone, which acts are duly classified in your Regulations. And on these terms I tolerate your injustice; though indeed it may be lamentable that, tied by your rules, you cannot cross a wall, which, may be, at other times serves thieves as a protection, even though a woman who has been set upon is crying for help behind it. Yet a wall is a wall, and the law is the law.

“But I forbid you to sit in judgment on man. For in the silence of my love I have learned that if we would understand a man, it is best not to listen to his words. And also because it is impossible for me to weigh Good and Evil in the balance, and in seeking to burn up Evil like a crop of weeds I run the risk of casting what is good upon the bonfire. Then how should you of all men, you whom I bid to be blind as a blind wall, profess to be capable of all this?”

For I have discovered that in burning a criminal I burn a part of him which has beauty and reveals itself only in the flames of his last end. Yet I am bound to accept this sacrifice in the interests of the structure of the whole. For by his death I stiffen springs which must not be permitted to relax.” (Page 237. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.)

Remember that in the great and lengthy debate over whether to abolish CP or not, the most important and affected party to the debate is missing as s/he has been unjustly and gruesomely silenced forever. Therefore, the whole argument about CP being uncivilized and inhuman is not fair. In the given uncivilized and inhuman social situation, if inhuman and uncivilized criminal acts, like murder, contract murder, rape, child abuse, drug trafficking, etc., take place, the punishment must be equal to the crime. For, since the crime takes place in the present ugly context the punishment also must take place in the same ugly context, and not in another putative or ideal context. There is no justification for transferring the punishment of a crime committed in the present ugly, unjust, brutal world to the beautiful, spiritual world of mystics and saints.

Social evils have increased, as the previous regime established a venal culture and gave it almost ‘legality’ as Edward Gunawardene famously wrote in The Island those days: “Seluwa aniwariya kara ethi rataka Saluwa vihiluwak bawata pathwee etha.” That is why the Yahapalanaya revolution took place in January 2015 to make the 180 degree turn. We are more likely to make that turn by implementing CP and not by its abolition. The abolition of CP is not going to stop drug trafficking and other evil practices, but rather increase them. CP would be the starting point of implementing again in the country law and order which, under the previous regime was nonexistent. Alas! The present administration is no improvement on the previous one at all.

I cannot help but feel (compassion or ‘anukampawa’ means suffering with) the fear, panic and terror of children like Vidya, Seya, Kavindu and other little victims; their last, desperate, vain cries for help and calling for their mother: Amma! Amma!! Why should we close our eyes, ears, hearts and minds to the excruciating pain, shame and the final loss of all hope when they realize that there is not a single soul in the whole world, not a single god out of 330 million watching, to rescue them? Why should we close our hearts to the unendurable bitter despair they feel in their last moments! Or take the 18 or so ladies of Kotakethana, whom neither the police nor the security forces nor the Government of SL were able to protect, as the killers went on a spree, killing them at regular intervals two by two; if possible imagine what they went through. Can we just forget them as if they never existed? Don’t we as a society owe them anything? Don’t we feel what was done to them was done to us or could have actually happened to us? The silenced must be given a hearing!

I know I am not in the good company of the righteous, making statements that are ‘politically correct’. But I cannot forget the sweet, innocent victims; for them to rest in peace, justice must be done according to the restorative (positive or negative) justice of this sinful world, not according to the norms of the beautiful, spiritual Utopias of mystics and saints. I am not seeking revenge, only justice. I am not presenting my arguments with the irrational mindset of a lynch mob. I am not asking for the global implementation of CP and for always. I am only seeking the implementation of the death penalty for the present moment in our country, Sri Lanka. The death penalty will be given only after due process of the best practices of the police and the judiciary, after the accused is found guilty beyond all reasonable doubt, and with full freedom to appeal the sentence. After some years we can evaluate the situation and, hopefully, we may be able to do away with the death penalty but not now.

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