Overtime, Rights of individuals/Human Rights has transcended from the passive view of mere acknowledgment to the active view of its enforcement. Events in the world, ranging from the injustice that pervaded the medieval periods up until Adolf Hitler’s Holocaust to the Jews has made the issue of Human Rights active and its preservation, absolute. Human Rights are inherent claims bestowed on each and every individual from birth. These Rights are intangible, yet authoritative and therefore enforceable.
Human Rights are innate and exercisable by all because it is incidental to the birth of all humans. However, inasmuch as there is free liberty in the exercise of Rights, there are also limitation to the exercise of these same Rights. This is because, where one person’s right stops is where another person’s right begins; hence, the regulation of the rights of individuals by the law. If rights are not regulated, enjoyment of rights by one person can and will encroach into the rights of another person.
W.N. Hohfeld, an astute legal philosopher, has asserted that rights and duties correlate. In explaining his correlation concept, he expounded that every Right comes with a Duty and such Duty must be carried out and fulfilled by another person. Hohfeld’s theory on Rights and Duties indirectly stresses on the ‘Neighbourliness Principle’.
If any person breaches another person’s Right, the latter can be entitled to claims or other forms of compensatory entitlement; likewise, if there is a breach of any Right by an individual that may amount to a crime, the State takes over to punish the person who breached such Right; this is because, Governmental practices are deeply rooted in the Utilitarian Principle of Law and Justice whereby, Law is made and Justice is achieved for the greater good of the people. On the other hand, where the right of the individual is necessitated to be trampled upon to achieve Justice for the good of the people, then the State can trample on such rights of individuals to achieve its constitutional obligations of protecting lives, properties and preserving the sanctity of the State.
Many Nations of the world still uphold the punishment of death penalty as a means of redressing punishments for the breach of the Right to Life. Here, the State puts to death via public execution, any person who willfully takes the life of another person. In Nigeria, the punishment of death penalty is provided for under Section 33(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As amended).
Stating ephemerally, this paper will discuss death penalty as a means of punishment, the ethical issues surrounding it, as it, by myriads of people may be regarded as murder by the executing state. We will also be examining whether it is ethical and therefore justifiable to uphold death punishment as a means of retributive justice. Nigeria will be the anchor point of this deliberate discussion. Light will also be thrown on other jurisdictions as regards their stance regarding the justifiability of death penalty through use or non-use of the punishment.
The Concept of Death Penalty
Death penalty or otherwise known as capital punishment remains a sensitive subject matter, as a means of punishment the death penalty has stood the test of time in which its origin can be arguably traced back to the biblical era where in the Christian Holy Book (The Bible) several types of punishments on offenders of the Judaic law were meted out in which the end punishment was ultimately death as prescribed by the law. Some scholars have opined that God himself is the origin of the death penalty as an avid user of method of punishment, several instances can be found within the texts of the bible, (i.e “the wages of sin is death” ) This particular text imbibes that the ultimate punishment of sin is death in itself. Moving past the biblical perspective historically death penalty has been in use with different methods and techniques utilized over the course of history.
Historical Standpoints of the Death Penalty
Significant standpoints in the history of death penalty are as follows:
Purportedly the first codification of the death penalty was done in the 1700s BC, in the manner of the Code of Hammurabi. This legal document from ancient Babylon had inscribed on it the twenty-five crimes that if committed were punishable by death such as adultery, the helping of slaves to escape. Ironically the crime of murder was not a crime punishable by death.
The year 1608 in the British American Colonies the first documented execution took place for the crime of treason. Other crimes such as murder , heresy, witchcraft/socerery, and rape were all regarded as crimes punishable by death.
Italian scholar Cesare Beccaria in 1764 published his work titled Essays on Crimes and Punishment, aimed at studying the 18th century criminal justice system he called for the abolition of capital punishment as such he influenced the modern capital punishment abolition movement.
Moving past Europe in 19th century America in the colonies many states made strides in the reduction of death penalty uses by reducing the number of crimes punishable by death and in turn building state penitentiaries.
Between 1823-1837 out of the 222 crimes punishable by death the number reduced by almost have in which over a 100 crimes were removed a s crimes punishable by death.
In 1890 William Kemmler became the first person to be electrocuted this process was assisted by American Scientist Thomas E. Edison and his team of engineer.
1924 began the era of the gas chamber to be used as a method of execution. The use of mainly cyanide gas was introduced.
In Oklahoma 1977 the introduction of lethal injection as a method of execution was adopted for the first time, subsequently December 7, 1982 Charles Brooks became the first person in the United States to be executed by form of lethal injection.
The Landmark case of Ford v Wainwright where the Supreme Court banned the execution of insane persons.
It is pertinent to note that much of the history of death penalty or capital punishment arises from its history in the United States of America as they remain at the forefront for the use of death penalty in today’s modern world, because of this their history reflects just that.
Methods of Execution of Death Penalty
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