Panellists disagree on death Penalty

A panel discussion by the European Union Delegation to Liberia to mark the International Day against the Death Penalty (10th October) has witnessed sharp disagreement on the abolition of capital punishment in Liberia.

In separate presentations, five panelists invited by the EU to exchange views on the death penalty subject expressed diverse opinions on the merits and demerits of maintaining the death penalty in Liberia.

The panelists included the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Human and Civil Rights, Worlea Saywah-Dunah, the Senate’s Committee Chairman on Judiciary, Cllr. Joseph Nagbe, and the Acting Chairman of the Independent National Commission on Human Rights, Mr Boakai Dukuly.

Others were the Executive Director of the Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT) in Liberia, Mr Dale N. Tokpah, and the Executive Director of the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL), Mr Thomas Doe-Nah.

Representative Worlea Saywah-Dunah in his presentation recalled the history of the enforcement of the death penalty in Liberia, especially during the administration of President William R. Tolbert, who he said signed sixteen death warrants.

The Nimba County lawmaker traced the death penalty to Liberia’s cultural and religious practices, but stressed that at present, he believes Liberia can abolish capital punishment when the country’s criminal justice system is strong and serves as an effective deterrence for perpetrators of heinous crimes.

In his words, the European Union must help provide the awareness and capacity to Liberia to reform the justice system which is largely weak as too often criminals are released after serving punishments without rehabilitation programs that would change their lives, something he observed make these same criminals to resort to committing additional crimes.

Senator Joseph Nagbe of Sinoe County and Chairman of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee told the panel discussion that the current death penalty law of Liberia, which is embedded in the Liberian Constitution (Article 20a), should be maintained to serve as deterrence for perpetrators of dreadful crimes.

“In my judgment as a lawyer, death penalty is to ensure deterrence. So, the judgment of death penalty is not for the dead but for the living. So, if you go out there and see something being hanged as a result of killing another person, it serves as a strong deterrence of killing another person,” he added.

For his part the Acting Chairman of the Independent National Commission on Human Rights, Mr Boakai Dukuly, who said he was expressing his personal view on the issue of capital punishment, emphasized the need for the abolition of the death penalty because there is no justification for its existence and practice.

“Deterrence is not a good explanation for the death penalty because people and countries that carry out capital punishment like America, are still seeing acts of murders being committed,” he noted.

Mr Dukuly said although the 1986 Constitution of Liberia provides for capital punishment it was now important to think about reforming the law on the death penalty and educate Liberians on every aspect of the death penalty because it was uncivilized to kill people who equally commit cruel crimes.

“I think the society is setting a bad example when it takes people and put them on the gauntlet or in the chair and sometimes people go there to watch it. What civilization does it bring to society when someone is told to eat his last food and that he will be killed tomorrow? I think the punishment is disproportionate to the crime”.

For their parts, Mr Thomas Doe-Nah of the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL), and Mr Dale N. Tokpah of the Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT) in Liberia, observed that capital punishment is not just uncivilized but equally brutal and does not effectively serve as a means of deterrence.

In response to the various views, the Head of the EU Delegation to Liberia, Ambassador Attilio Pacifici, said, countries of the EU hold the unanimous view that the imposition of capital punishment is against the right to life and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhumane or degrading punishment and that the death penalty has no influence on the existence of crime.

Ambassador Pacifici thanked the panellists for their views on the death penalty and called on Liberians to have a discussion on capital punishment with a view to change the current death penalty law.

“While we appreciate the Liberian moratorium on executions in place since 2005 and acknowledge that the last execution took place in 1979, we also note the worrying trend of breaches of such moratoria both in the region and in Asia. Therefore we cannot underestimate the huge importance of Liberia fully ratifying the 1989 Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on the abolition of the death penalty,” the EU envoy emphasized.

Meanwhile, in a joint declaration to mark the International Day Against the Death Penalty on 10th October, Mr Thorborn Jagland, Secretary of the Council of Europe, and Ms. Catherine Ashton, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, “reiterated the Council of Europe and EU strong opposition to the use of capital punishment” because “they continue to underline, whenever and wherever possible, the inhumane and cruel nature of this unnecessary punishments and its failure to prevent crime.”

Thursday’s panel discussion by the EU at its offices in Mamba Point was attended by a number of foreign Ambassadors accredited to Liberia, civil society representatives and the media. Ambassadors present at the event included Kodjo A. Wadee of Ghana, Beng’yela A. Gang of Cameroon and Masilo E. Mabeta of South Africa while Ms. Gisela Strand represented the Swedish Embassy and Lt. Col. Hesty Simanya represented the African Union Liaison Office to Liberia. Members of civil society and the media included Mr Oscar Bloh of Search for Common Ground, Journalist Kenneth Y. Best of Daily Observer Newspaper, Patrick Flomo of the Liberia Broadcasting System, David Targbe of Power TV/Radio and William Selma of the West Africa Democracy Radio and Radio Veritas.