Forced to Kill: The Mandatory Death Penalty and its Incompatibility with Fair Trial Standards


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In the run up to the UN General Assembly vote on a suspension of all executions in September, the IBAHRI, in conjunction with the Geneva Academy, has published a report, written by Sadakat Kadri, which considers the stance of international and Islamic law on the issue of mandatory death penalties.

The report, titled Forced to Kill: The Mandatory Death Penalty and its Incompatibility with Fair Trail Standards charts an encouraging growth in the number of UN states opposed to the mandatory death penalty, and finds that only a maximum of 37 countries mandate the death penalty today, and even fewer actually carry out the punishment in practice.

The report argues that requiring execution as punishment for particular crimes not only violates an individual’s human rights but also undermines the concept of justice.

“No matter how despicable a criminal might be, denying him or her any right to put forward mitigation amounts to profound abuse of the judicial system.”

The report looks at the context within which countries applythe death penalty, and notes the impact of the British Empire in instigating automatic death penalties in numerous former colonies so that today ‘many of the places most likely automatically to sentence murderers to death over the last half century have been countries in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean that were formerly subject to British law.’

Additionally, the report draws attention to the fact that some countries resort to the death penalty as a response to increased political insecurity and threats from internal opposition or extremist attacks. It notes the Pakistani government’s decision to lift a 2008 moratorium on executions following the Taliban’s massacre of over 140 people at a Peshwar army school in 2014, which led to 2015 seeing the highest ever number of executions on record in Pakistan.

The report comes to focus on that fact that support for the death penalty is disproportionately common amongst countries influenced by Islamic law, and notes that Muslims who support the death penalty insist that its practice is essentially Islamic. The report disputes this and proposes that Islamic law, in agreement with international law, in fact backs a moratorium on automatic death sentences.

“Sacred as God’s Sharia is to Muslims, strict punishments applied arbitrarily by human beings, even if religiously inspired, do irreparable harm.”

The paper is concerned with reconciling modern international law with Islamic jurisprudence and attempts to show that ‘trial procedures developed more than a thousand years ago’ can be consistent with ‘the standards of fairness that most people today properly expect in a court room.’

Forced to Kill concludes that there is no ‘compelling religious reason’ for Muslim countries not to accept a moratorium on the death penalty, should the UN vote for one, and concludes the following four points:

  • All states with mandatory death penalty laws should suspend their operation;
  • Such states should also go further, and abolish the mandatory death penalty outright;
  • All states should acknowledge that mandatory death penalty contravenes international law;
  • Retentionist states should avoid the use of death penalty in all circumstances, and should support a moratorium on executions when this comes up for reconsideration during the 71st session of the UN General Assembly in September 2016.