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I, too, thank Bill Kidd for lodging this important motion and for achieving today’s debate. The words that are inscribed on the mace that sits in this chamber are compassion, wisdom, justice and integrity. Those are the founding ideals of this Parliament; they are ideals that we all take seriously and which must be central to any debate on the death penalty.
Human rights are the foundation of our shared values of fairness, respect, equality and dignity, and they apply to everyone.
In 1948, when the United Nations unanimously adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it proclaimed every individual’s right to life and stated that nobody should be subject to cruel or degrading punishment. There is no justification for respecting some of those rights but not the most fundamental, which is the right to life.
In February this year, in a message to the seventh world congress against the death penalty, Pope Francis affirmed that
“the dignity of the person is not lost even if he has committed the worst of the crimes. No one can take his life and deprive him of the opportunity to embrace again the community he hurt and made suffer”.
I believe that we must also refuse to facilitate extradition to countries that still endorse capital punishment.
Supporters of the death penalty often talk about it in an abstract way, but we should never forget that it is state-authorised killing. The methods—beheading, electrocution, hanging, lethal injection of chemicals or shooting—are barbaric, and the weight of the death penalty is carried disproportionately by the poor and by racial, ethnic or religious minorities, who are often denied proper legal representation.
The unseen victims—children whose parents have been sentenced to death or executed—were rightly highlighted in the world day against the death penalty this year. The notion that actions relating to children must be in
“the best interests of the child” is now enshrined in various human rights conventions, and that must also be considered.
Politicians and others who support capital punishment often fail to confront the real causes of crime, such as poverty and inequality. The political use of the death penalty is common in countries in which members of the judiciary may be elected. As such, they adopt hard-line positions to win votes.
Our argument against the death penalty must be part of the conversation about how we propose to make communities safe while respecting the human rights of all. Justice should be available for all, regardless of economic status. Unless Governments are willing to allocate proper resources to fight poverty and inequality, our communities will never be safe. Prisons are often ineffective in rehabilitating, and reoffending rates are high.
Here at home, our judicial system continues to imprison vulnerable women, as opposed to society investing in the services that are needed to provide an alternative.
I go back to why the death penalty should never again have a place in our justice system. It is irrevocable, and no court system in the world has not been guilty of terrible miscarriages of justice. We all know the long list of such miscarriages of justice in our own country—the Guildford four and the Birmingham six come to mind. As Stewart Stevenson said, there is no evidence that capital punishment works as a deterrent.
The debate has provided a welcome opportunity for the Scottish Parliament to add its voice to the voices of all those who spoke out so clearly on the world day against the death penalty on 10 October. Once again, I thank Bill Kidd for lodging the motion.