Philosophical and moral objections to judicial killing
These include the following:
George Orwell’s description of an execution in colonial Burma: the condemned man stepped aside to avoid a puddle on his way to the gallows. Orwell saw what he described as the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short when it is in full tide. Orwell concluded that there can be no exceptions: either one executes or one does not. Either the hangman places the noose over the condemned’s head, or the electric chair operator throws the switch, or he does not. There cannot be degrees of capital punishment.
Albie Sachs’ view of judicial killing is that the death sentence violates the right to human dignity and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment. If a killer is executed, in Sachs’ opinion, he/she achieves a perverse moral victory because by killing the killer, the state effectively reduces public abhorrence at the idea of the deliberate taking of human life.
Albert Camus stood apart from his contemporaries in post World-War II France through his refusal to accept the death penalty. He opposed his former resistance comrades’ approval of the execution of collaborators. His opposition to capital punishment contributed to his split from the Stalinists and resulted in his refusal to endorse the use of terrorism by Algerian nationalists. During his childhood in Algiers, public executions by guillotine were carried out.
Camus’ views on judicial killing included the following:
There is not a writer who ignores the value of human life and I suppose that this is one of the honourable definitions of that profession. It is perhaps for that reason that I have always detested the justice of men in power.
We must serve justice because our condition is unjust, add to happiness and joy because this universe is unhappy. In the same way, we must not sentence to death because we have been given death sentences.
Any death sentence is a denial of morality.
Inside existing nations men must strive for a new social contract; on the world level, an international convention should abolish the death penalty.
The world is divided between those who agree to be murderers when necessary and those who refuse with all their strength.