Friday, March 04, 2005

The Death Penalty and International Opinion: Whether They Are Against It Depends on the Country Applying It

In declaring (by a 5-4 margin) that it is unconstitutional to impose the death penalty on convicts who were younger than 18 when they committed their crimes, the Supreme Court invoked "the overwhelming weight of international opinion".

Truth be told, I have no strong feelings or opinions on the death penalty either way. What does get me going (as some of our readers have realized by now) is international "opinion" and double standards.

As you know, one of the principles the ever-so-humanistic Europeans are known for is their opposition to the death penalty. Indeed, Le Monde wasted no time in penning an editorial praising the "change" that allows for "taking into account international opinion" while warning that "the battle for the abolition" of "the most barbarous punishment" and "its fundamental injustice" is not yet won.

Most (if not all) EU states have outlawed it (I am positive it is a condition for being admitted to the EU), and all use their fight against it as a reason to castigate Uncle Sam and to sniff how reactionary America is and how backward it is compared with avant-garde European states. (Incidentally, Isabelle Mandraud recently penned a portrait of Robert Badinter, the French justice minister who was the main force behind the abolition of the guillotine in 1981.)

They are so snooty about this that they have refused to help Americans — and Iraqis — in their search for evidence in Iraq's killing fields, since that might help convict Saddam Hussein and his henchmen, and bring them, or some of them, the death penalty.

So it may come as a surprize that the Europeans never take China much to the task on the matter, although that country (notwithstanding the millions of people murdered during the Cultural Revolution) has in the recent past executed an average of 100 people a week! "At least 650 executions reported … in the months of December and January alone" amounts to about the same amount that have been executed in America since the death penalty was reinstated …three decades ago. If those figures are taken as an average, they amount to an execution rate 150 times that of the U.S. (25 years x 6 two-month periods) and that for a country that is only four to five times as populous! (I.e., if the populations were equal, the Chinese execution rate would still be 30 times that of the U.S.)

In any case, the estimate is far too low, notes Bruno Philip, since they are based only on official Chinese figures.

In 2004 alone, 10,000 people were executed, according to a Chonquing representative, i.e., more than five times the combined total of all the other executions in the world. By comparison, the United States features (and correct me if I am wrong — indeed, correct me if you have the exact statistics, please) 800 executions over 25 years.

In fact, not only do the Europeans not attack China on this matter (or even mention it, beyond a few token articles, such as those linked above), but when a French weekly magazine planned to make a big stink about American executions a few years ago, and one member (Pascal Bruckner) proposed that China be added to the list of countries castigated about the matter, he was turned down: No country but America would bear the brunt of the castigation.

This is not dissimilar to European hand-wrenching with regards to the capitalist economy, coupled with complete silence regarding working conditions in Chinese society.

It's called principles. Of the European kind.

Isn't it good to know that Europeans always have their heads on their shoulders and their priorities straight?

Update: Read about the prison treatment of Qin Yanhong