The Human Rights Forum (HRF) strongly condemns the execution of Afzal Guru. The execution is brazen injustice and inhuman. It is a dark day for our democracy.
HRF is in principle opposed to capital punishment in all cases without exception. This is regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual. The death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights and has no deterrent effect. We believe it is brutal, arbitrary and discriminatory. It is nothing but the premeditated and cold-blooded killing of a human being by the State and it violates the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
It is well to remember that all the five attackers of Parliament were killed in the gunfight that very day and Afzal Guru’s alleged involvement in the planning of the attack on Parliament is the only reason why he was sentenced to die. This is no way meets the “rarest of rare” critieria for which the death sentence is allowed for in Indian law. It is therefore unfortunate that the Supreme Court also succumbed to the common emotion of retributive justice when it noted that sentencing him to death would satisfy “the collective conscience of the society”. This, when the evidence against Guru was thin and circumstantial.
Unfortunately, Afzal’s case was enmeshed in a politics of hate from the very moment of his arrest. The trail itself was flawed. It was based on faulty investigation, circumstantial evidence and the role of the police was deeply suspect from the very arbitrary and suspicious. Moreover, Afzal Guru did not have adequate legal representation in the course of his trial. According to Amnesty International, the trail did not conform with India’s obligation under international human rights law. The secrecy surrounding Afzal’s execution, like in the Kasab case, is very disturbing and raises serious questions about procedural fairness.
Another reason why capital punishment must be abolished is that in case a judgement is erroneous, the mistake cannot be reversed. Even the Supreme Court can err when it comes to making decisions about life and death. We recall that in August 2012, fourteen eminent retired judges had written to the President asking him to commute the death sentences of 13 convicts because the Supreme Court recently admitted that seven of its judgements giving those 13 capital punishment were made in error or ignorance! The Supreme Court has also admitted error in giving death sentence to Ravji Rao and Surja Ram of Rajasthan, who were hanged in 1996 and 1997.
It is time our nation curbed its instincts for bloody retribution and moved away from an “eye for an eye” form of punishment. Retribution is a kind of punishment to ourselves. Justice should be restorative, not retributive.
The desirability of the abolition of the death penalty has long been recognized in international law and standards. HRF believes that public opinion in India can no longer ignore the global movement in favour of abolition of the death penalty. As of today, 141 countries in the world have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. We must work towards becoming a more humane and compassionate society, and leave a better, less blood-thirsty world behind for our children.
HRF demands that the government establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.
VS Krishna S Jeevan Kumar
(HRF State general secretary) (HRF State president)