Justice or retribution?

People in my part of the world are feeling dismay at the execution of two young men, convicted for drug smuggling, who had rehabilitated themselves over the last ten years of their lives on death row in an Indonesian prison.

Mind you, they were not the only ones executed by the Indonesian Justice System this week – there were seven others, and they have in excess of a hundred more on death row awaiting the firing squad.

Along with many others, I find myself wondering whether capital punishment is justice or retribution. It’s hard to believe that there are places in the world in the twenty first century that still impose mandatory death sentences for murder – let alone for drug smuggling.

Mandatory death sentences leave no room for acknowledging that people make mistakes.

Mandatory death sentences leave no room for rehabilitation.

Governments that impose them claim that they serve as a deterrent. And it’s not just governments in Asia and the Middle East. There are still States in the USA imposing the death penalty.

Seems to me that capital punishment is no more effective as a deterrent to crime than the possession of nuclear weapons has been as a deterrent to war since 1945. Interestingly, both so called nuclear superpowers have visited themselves upon Afghanistan, at different times admittedly, and I’ve lost count of the number of other wars since August 1945.

As a reader and writer of crime novels, I know that we prefer our crime stories to end with the criminal facing justice. We don’t like to think that people get away with things like murder. Criminals need to pay some sort of price for their anti-social behaviour.

In the real world, outside of crime fiction, I am left wondering whether the whole notion of justice is a fiction. Capital punishment is just another version of an eye for an eye – and that’s retribution in my book!

Thanks for dropping by, Peter.


We’re still executing people in the name of justice.

hangmans_knotFrom my reading of history, we have been executing people in the name of justice for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Execution has always been, and remains, a barbaric act, no matter how popular or how sophisticated the method used to despatch the victim.

In my corner of the world, the Indonesian justice system is preparing to execute two young Australians, who have been on death row in Bali for the last ten years, now that the newly installed Indonesian President has denied their application for a presidential pardon. Their crime was attempting to smuggle drugs into Australia from Indonesia. If they had been arrested in Australia, they would probably be out on parole by now. But hey, they’re tough on drug smugglers in Indonesia, and these boys are not the first Australians to die from a drug related misadventure in Asia – and they probably won’t be the last either.

Last week, Jordan executed two prisoners, who had been on death row in that country for years, in retaliation for the execution of a captured Jordanian pilot by terrorists in Syria. Was that justice in action or an act of vengeance designed to send a signal, that there would be no more talk of prisoner swaps, to the terrorist in neighbouring Syria?

Every year people are executed in the name of justice, in places where you’d think we could do better. Amnesty International has been compiling the figures, if you’re interested. The increasing number of countries (98 by 2013) where capital punishment has been abolished is encouraging, but the increasing number of executions is not. And God only knows how many people are executed in China each year, because the Chinese are too secretive (embarrassed?) to release figures that Amnesty could use to shame them.

People make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes cost other people their lives. Other times those mistakes break some legal taboo with a mandatory death sentence attached. Some people realise the magnitude of their mistake, and go on to lead exemplary lives once they have served their time in prison. Others are unable to mend their ways.

When we execute the mistake maker, in the name of justice, we close off any possibility for rehabilitation for that individual.

From my perspective, what we call justice is often no more than retribution or abuse of power.

I look forward to the day we embrace forgiveness and compassion as essential components of our justice system, and we move on from any notion that justice involves retribution. Yes, in such a justice system people will still go to prison – but not to be executed.

So, how civilised are we?

Thanks for dropping by, Peter.

The image is from OpenClipArt.Org