Europeans: More Equal than Others?
By Dr Shireen M Mazari


Let me state my position on capital punishment at the outset: I am unequi- vocally opposed to it on a number of counts. First, it does not act as a deterrent to murder and so far there is no data to show that the number of murders has been reduced as a result of the prevalence of the death penalty -- or that there are fewer murders committed in countries that have the death penalty than in those that do not.
Second, from the developed to developing states, justice is never perfect and there is always human error. For instance, there have been cases even in the "developed" US where innocent people have been meted out capital punishment -- so life imprisonment is a more just option.
Three, there is a moral issue involved regarding the whole notion of taking a life: if murder is wrong then on what grounds can one sanctify the taking of life by the state? This is of course not as straightforward as it may sound given the notion of war and so on, but it does reflect the moral dilemma linked to capital punishment.
Having said this much on capital punishment, at present there is the issue hitting the newspapers that relates to the murder of a taxi driver by a British citizen, in Rawalpindi, who has subsequently been given the death penalty. Of course, the European media has raised a hue and cry regarding the trial itself, along with Amnesty International, and there seems to be an absurd assumption that because the trial was in Pakistan it must, by definition, have been unfair or flawed. No doubt our legal system like so many others, leaves a lot to be desired but given the illustrious lawyers the British citizen had, and given that the family of the murdered man was hardly influential, why should there be an automatic assumption that the trial was flawed? Worse still is the assumption that an exception to the death penalty must be made in this case because it involves a British citizen. Why? Are British citizens above the law of the land in which they commit their crime or are they automatically to be treated above the rest of the local citizenry?
Of course, Amnesty has raised the issue of capital punishment per se, but it is the argument put forward by the head of Amnesty's South Asian team, Angelika Pathak who declares that the "death penalty is a symptom of a culture of violence". This does not hold true with ground realities. After all, Britain has no death penalty but there is systemic violence ingrained in its society -- from football hooliganism to racial violence and police violence. The last has reached new heights after the July 2005 London bombings and this was witnessed not only in the shooting of an innocent Brazilian (who was killed in a hail of bullets by the Metropolitan Police) but also in the more recent shooting and violence against a Bangladeshi migrant family in London.
In fact, while much is made of the distorted version of the concept of jihad in Islam, no one is paying much attention to the Church of England's violent hymns like "Onward Christian soldiers" and others in a similar vein. That is why British and other European soldiers from the "coalition of the willing" that invaded Iraq have found it quite acceptable to violently abuse Iraqi prisoners and Iraqi civil society -- along with the US whose tales of Muslim prisoner abuse are now sickeningly notorious.
So before Amnesty has substantive data it should refrain from declaring that the death penalty reflects a culture of violence -- no matter how attractive that may sound to a particular audience. There are multiple factors that breed a culture of violence.
Even more absurd is the manner in which Pakistan is being targeted for the meting out of capital punishment to a British citizen. The House of Commons actually passed a resolution questioning our judicial system and declared that the charges did not conform to the "standards laid by the European and Human Rights Commission". Are we in Pakistan supposed to accept these standards? And why was Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms not applied by the Europeans in the case of the blasphemous cartoons?
Interestingly, this is not the first case of a British citizen being meted out capital punishment in another country. The US has been carrying out capital punishment against a number of British citizens and I have yet to find any House of Commons resolution condemning this action on the part of certain US States -- although I am willing to be corrected on this count. For instance, there is the case of British national Nicky Ingram, who was executed in Georgia in 1995 and, according to anti-death penalty campaigner Clive Smith, his life could have been saved had the then British Prime Minister John Major intervened. In 2002, Blair refused to intervene personally, and British citizen Tracy Housel was executed, again in Georgia. Incidentally, Housel was denied access to a British consul after his arrest -- which is a right guaranteed to foreign nationals by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and a right which Pakistan has also respected. The US has ratified this convention but is famous for routinely violating it. Then there was John Elliott who was executed by the US state of Texas in February 2003, again despite appeals by the British government. I have yet to trace the record of House of Commons resolutions condemning the trials and executions of these individuals.
It is unfortunate that instead of fighting for principles and creating greater public awareness regarding the issue of capital punishment per se at the global level, the Europeans are seeking to use political and economic pressure on Pakistan to save a British citizen on death row. What message is being sent out to Europeans -- that they will be treated above the law in countries like Pakistan? Did the president of the EU Parliament write an equally forceful note to President Bush in the case of the now-executed British citizens as he has done to the Pakistani President, to whom he has sent what can only be regarded as an ominous note, stating that "the carrying out of this execution will cast a shadow over the reputation of Pakistan as it would clearly represent a rare combination of excessive cruelty and profound injustice."
It is unfortunate that the whole issue of capital punishment has become lost in the web of political pressures and diatribes from Amnesty and the EU. This does no service to the fight against the death penalty. Instead, it only shows that the EU regards its own as above the laws of others.
(The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. Courtesy The News)


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