Avril C. Gulapa

On October 10, the World Coalition Against Death Penalty marks the 21st World Day Against the Death Penalty—a day to advocate putting an end to the existence of the death penalty worldwide. The World Day Against the Death Penalty serves as a catalyst to raise awareness of the cruelty caused by the death penalty since 2003. This year, the organization strives to focus on deliberating the connection between the death penalty, torture, and other derogatory punishment and build on the momentum that occurred in 2022. 

Death Penalty: A movement for justice or a human rights violation?

Death penalty

The other term for the death penalty is capital punishment; it refers to perpetrating an execution of the defendant as a punishment for disobeying the criminal law. The idea of putting the death penalty in practice caused mixed reactions to many as it violates the right to live of individuals. However, despite viewing the death penalty as inhumane, numerous countries still put it in practice, as the majority believe it refrains people from committing criminal acts—deterrence. In most countries that support the death penalty, the punishment only stands applicable to those guilty of heinous crimes (murder, treason, rape, and arson).

Nonetheless, even though the death penalty only applies to limited crimes, hindering one's right to live is still unjust and against human rights, as the death penalty has unsolved issues. The issue behind its proclamation is that not all justice system is fair and impartial—with the death penalty, thousands of innocent lives have been killed as it leaves no room for errors. The death penalty also faces the issue of violating the right to equality and non-discrimination. In a statement from the United Nations in 2017, marking the 14th World Day Against the Death Penalty, they remarked that impoverished people have more chances to undergo the death penalty than wealthy individuals, as poor fellows cannot afford the money and power to save themselves from injustices, thus resulting in unequal rights and class-based discrimination. 

With the biased cases due to the death penalty, most people see its existence as a tool to control and manipulate the citizens rather than to promote justice and fairness. The death penalty has not ultimately proven that it would deter crimes. With such unsureness, justice will stand vulnerable to inequality and discrimination. 

The worldwide state of the death penalty

Across the world, Amnesty International reported that the most known countries that perpetrated the death penalty in 2022 are China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the USA (from most leading to least leading). The organization recorded that 883 executions occurred in 20 countries in 2022 due to the death penalty, which is undoubtedly 59% higher than the collected data from 2021. With the 2022 data, 90% of the killings happened in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. 

Meanwhile, in the USA, an increase of 64% in the death penalty occurred, from 11 killings in 2021 to 18 killings in 2022. 

China: The country with the highest rate of the death penalty

The state of human rights in China is in question as several issues transpiring in the nation violate the right to live of individuals—the issue stands evident in their proclamation of the death penalty. Under the 2021 UN Universal Periodic Review of China, 46 crimes (including non-violent crimes) apply for a defendant to face the death penalty in the country. Thus, the majority view the case as objectionable since most of the crimes that have been punished by death penalty do not fall under the "universally acknowledged" crimes (e.g., murder, treason, rape, and arson). 

All beings must have the right to live. Yet, in 2022, Amnesty International gathered 1,000 executions in China due to the death penalty. 

Just like in the most common defects of the death penalty, China also faces difficulty in promoting fairness and justice in this practice. Several cases in the past years, such as the Nie Shubin case, the Hugjiltu case, the Zhang Yuhuan case, and the Jiangxi Leping case, show the main problem of the death penalty, as these individuals were wrongfully convicted and executed. 

Pushing the death penalty in the Philippines

Years after recovering from the cruelty of the death penalty in the Philippines, Senator Bato Dela Rosa and Senator Robin Padilla aim to push the implementation of the death penalty in the Philippines again. 

In a 2022 report of the Senate of the Philippines, Senator Bato Dela Rosa claimed that the death penalty would save thousands of lives of innocent Filipinos, as his aim for the death penalty imposition focuses on high-level drug trafficking crimes. On the other hand, Senator Robin Padilla also pushed for bringing back the death penalty in the Philippines. In May 2023, he filed Senate Bill 2217 as he wants law enforcers and elective officials to face capital punishment once they involve themselves in a drug trade.

Their eagerness to impose the death penalty in the country stood controversial to Filipinos as the Philippine justice system does not have enough credibility to show that it is fair and just to everyone, regardless of their status. Most Filipinos believe that the Philippines is facing an immense economic crisis—with that, government officials must focus on the issues that need an immediate and efficient resolution rather than deviate their attention toward the imposition of the problematic death penalty. 

The state of Philippine society without the death penalty

Despite not having the death penalty in the Philippines, cases of police brutality against Filipinos still arose in 2022 under the governance of President Ferdinand "BongBong" Marcos Jr. 

According to the report of Amnesty International, these cases—killings and arbitrary arrests occurred under the war on drugs and immensely involved other individuals (activists, journalists, human rights defenders) who only aimed to fight for the truth, rights, and freedom from repression. 

From 2022 to 2023, Dahas Project under Third World Studies Center of the University of the Philippines collected that there were 324 killings by the police due to the war on drugs and other unidentified reasons. The other causes of killings are rooted in 'red-tagging' innocent Filipinos who aim to put an end to bad governance. Killings and arbitrary arrests have transpired in the country, evident in the cases of Silvestre Fortades and Rose Maria Galia (red-tagged farmers who were shot dead), Adora Faye de Vera (arrested due to being a red-tagged human rights defender), and other brave Filipinos who received wrong accusations.

The proclamation of the death penalty in the Philippines may not be existent; however, the actions and brutality done by officials are just the same as the cruelty caused by the death penalty. The Philippines is a democratic country where everyone has freedom of expression—which is ironic to what is currently happening in the country today. 

End the death penalty and abuses: What can individuals do?

As the death penalty and abuses continuously occur worldwide, fellows must make a move to bring change and justice against all the brutality. It is a must to learn and educate people through social media platforms about the death penalty, police abuses, and reasons to put an end to it. To learn and educate may serve as the way to be heard by the officials and to stand for one's right to live. Other than that, people may sign petitions and reach out to organizations (Amnesty International, Death Penalty Information Center, World Coalition Against Death Penalty, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, etc.) promoting equality and fair rights for all beings.