Should Vietnam abolish the death penalty?

By Editorial    October 25, 2017 | 07:00 pm GMT+7

Vietnam is scrapping the death penalty for what it deems to be five serious crimes, but should the country abolish it altogether?

Justice is long past the days of an eye for an eye as serious crimes tend to be measured by the number of years the culprit is sentenced to jail.

The 55 remaining countries that still had capital punishment as of 2016 mostly reserved it for crimes deemed especially grave in nature, according to Amnesty International.

Under Vietnam's penal code, those crimes include endangering national security, infringing on people's lives, illicit drugs, corruption and a number of other offenses. 

Official figures from Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security showed that 429 prisoners were executed between August 2013 and June 2016.

Things will change from January 2018 when the new Penal Code takes effect. Robbery, vandalizing equipment and projects vital to national security, opposing order, surrendering to the enemy and the production and trade of fake food will be removed from Vietnam’s list of capital offenses. That will take the country’s number of capital crimes down from 22 to 17.

The Vietnamese public and lawmakers largely support keeping capital punishment for serious crimes as a way to deter them. The common argument is that abolishing the death penalty would encourage unscrupulous robbers and killers to continue on a life of crime.

Opponents argue that it doesn't work because it doesn't tackle the root causes of these crimes. 

Globally, opponents of capital punishment point out that decades of scientific research have never been able to prove that the death penalty works as a deterrent. In a report published in 2012, the U.S.-based National Research Council looked at three decades of studies on the deterrent effect of the death penalty for homicide, and concluded that they were all methodologically flawed.

But a Vietnamese law professor in Ho Chi Minh City, who declined to be named, said those findings are based very much on the agenda of the researchers, who tend to "tailor their research to substantiate their arguments."

"A society free of capital punishment is one that has developed to a certain high level in tandem with its citizens’ awareness of the law,” she said.

Another issue lies with wrongful charges. The most recent data released by Vietnam’s top legislature, the National Assembly, in mid-2015 showed that at least 71 people were wrongfully charged or convicted in the country from October 2011 to September 2014.

Most of the cases involved murder, robbery or child rape.

Some on death row like Han Duc Long have been cleared of crimes they did not commit before the sentence was carried out. But that's not always the case.

Once a death sentence is executed, it cannot be undone. Given that we can all make mistakes, is a life sentence a sufficient deterrent for serious crimes while leaving room for the possibility of mistaken judgments to be corrected?

For cases where the evidence is clear, is there such a thing as an unforgivable crime? Do we all deserve a second chance?

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