Yet another article on the death penalty? Well, as long as the death penalty exists, there is a need for advocacy against it (notwithstanding the “Rarest of the Rare” standard). Former United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon writes,“The death penalty has no place in the 21st century. Leaders across the globe must boldly step forward in favor of abolition.”  This article analyzes the merits of various arguments for retention and abolition. It also discusses the ‘Rarest of the Rare’ standard in the Indian context, and its fallacies. After such analysis, it firmly seconds the opinion voiced by Ban Ki-Moon, and that of at least 170 nations that have abolished capital punishment, in principle or in practice.
Abolition of death penalty, over the years, has been recognized as a sensitive issue, and has formed the core of several debates, both at national and international levels. Retentionists have sought to justify this practice by arguing that death penalty serves the purpose of not just deterrence, but incapacitation as well as retribution. They assert that maintaining secure prison systems for high-risk, violent offenders for their lifetime, acts as a drain on government resources and that condemning such criminals to death is a ‘cheaper’ alternative. Public or majoritarian opinion and ‘will of citizens’ in democracies have also contributed to the retentionist mindset of states and societies. Despite the lack of basis of certain claims, retentionists’ arguments can be articulated and are indeed perceived by some as moral ones. When discussing the death penalty from the perspective of values, it is critical to bring the victims’ perspectives into the debate. Their position certainly carries not just moral but also political leverage. Victims and their family members remain amongst the strongest proponents of the death penalty, as it inherently quenches their craving for vengeance (as opposed to justice), by providing some form of closure.