[CON] Deterrent effect not proven

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[CON] Deterrent effect not proven

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*Should we enforce capital punishment?

A surge of brutal murders and rapes has reignited the debate on capital punishment. To rein in monstrous crimes, calls are growing for the reinstatement of the death penalty, while others still think it violates the most basic human right. Minister of Justice Kwon Jae-jin said the government will open a serious discussion of the issue.

Child rapes and horrid murders are on the rise. The government and its experts are coming up with various ideas to stave off or curb horrendous crimes. They range from increased social protections for children of poor or broken families, as well as mentally or physically challenged kids, to reinforcing law enforcement with security cameras, police checks, and extending the scope of information kept on sex offenders as well as legal revisions to make rape reporting easier.

But those measures are hardly new. What is most eye-catching is a rising call for the reinstatement of the death penalty: executing criminals. The government is fiddling with the unofficial moratorium on executions, which have not taken place since 1997.

This is not the first time the issue has arisen. The idea of reinstating the maximum criminal retribution has been revisited every time grisly crimes became news.

The debate resurfaced following a series of random acts of brutality and crimes against women and children. Minister of Justice Kwon Jae-jin said the government remains cautious about reinstating executions but may need to deeply reconsider the idea in order to fight horrible crimes.

The state has no right to take the life of an individual. By executing a criminal, his or her victim gains nothing. Also, there is always the chance of wrongful sentencing and execution. The lives of innocent people can be taken away due to wrongful convictions.

Moreover, we have the unfortunate precedent of wrongful convictions and executions, or judiciary murder, during our military regimes, which used them to remove political opponents.

The government is wrong to reconsider reinstating the death penalty without a full review and apology for past mistakes. The Ministry of Justice in 2006 pledged that it would consider formally abolishing capital punishment and turn the maximum penalty to life imprisonment.

According to Amnesty International, 97 countries legally ban capital punishment, and 35, including Korea, are abolitionist in practice. A total of 175 member countries of the United Nations, or 91 percent, abolished or do not practice capital punishment.

In 2007, the European Union denied Korea’s request for diplomatic treaties of mutual legal assistance and extradition citing the human rights violation of maintaining the death penalty.

The Ministry of Justice finally gained approval and treaty membership after pledging that it won’t practice executions. We would lose face if we break our international oath. Murders and rapists don’t commit crimes because they know they won’t be executed.

A public outcry against monstrous offenses and anger against the criminals are understandable. But there is no proof that executions can prevent horrid crimes.

Various experts have been unable to discover a correlation between executions and decreases or increases in serious crimes through empirical studies. Our society was aghast at the recent series of horrible crimes.

But losing our head and demanding immediate reinstatement of executions won’t help in any way to prevent serious crimes. Without any proven efficacy of the death penalty in deterring crime, there is no reason to return to the contentious practice.

We should instead use the momentum of our concern to demonstrate maturity and revisit the legal grounds to officially abolish the death penalty.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

*The author is a law professor of Gangneung-Wonju National University.
By Oh Kyung-shik
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