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The Anti-terrorism Law: A revisit

5 September 2017 No Comment

By Benjamin Et-Nchenge

Though the Cameroon Government has based its institution and subsequent retention of the Anti-terrorism Law (death penalty) in its criminal law on its endorsement by the National Assembly, the position of the State loses its merit when subjected to deeper scrutiny. Indeed a re-consideration of the decision is validated by the fact that the matter involves life, which human beings has no power to create and therefore should take extreme care in seeking to take.
Indeed, the campaigns for the abolition of the capital punishment have persisted over the years. Currently, 58 countries are actively carrying out capital punishment, 98 countries have abolished it for all crimes, seven have abolished it for ordinary crimes only (maintaining it for special circumstances such as war crimes), and 35 have abolished it. For instance, Sweden abolished the death penalty since 1921. Other countries out of 140 that have also abolished the death penalty include Switzerland (1942), Germany (1949), the United Kingdom (1973), Canada (1976) and France (1981). Some African countries such as South Africa (1995), Senegal (2004) and Togo (2009) have also abolished the death penalty.
In Cameroon where the death penalty is still in the statutes, it is not only the Law makers that support it. So far, ever since signing the offensive law, no death warrant for any death row prisoner or for any prisoner at that has been executed. And so, more importantly, no individual has been reported to have any appeal pending anywhere in our law courts; and so we have not a situation which is a violation of Cameroonian and international law. Could it be so because Cameroon is a signatory to the United Nations 2007 moratorium on the use of capital punishment?
For the proponents of the death penalty, it serves as a deterrent to crime. The point is often canvassed that the fear of being executed for a crime denies the would-be criminal the incentive of actually committing it. More so, the argument goes, the death penalty incapacitates criminals that might commit more murders. But even without the benefit of statistics, it cannot be argued that more crimes are committed in Cameroon or countries where there is no death penalty than those which have it in their law books. In Cameroon for instance, the death penalty has not stopped the perpetration of such crimes as deserve it.
The death penalty presumptuously, and even wrongly, puts in the hands of mortals the power over life. Yet, the imperfections of human beings easily seep into the justice system and disrupt a thorough judicial process that should be followed before the sentence of death is passed. The wrong person could be executed and simply because life is irreplaceable, there is no way the state can compensate for this. But if a person is sentenced to imprisonment and he is eventually discovered to be innocent even after many years, there is the possibility of Government compensating him or her and for such a life to wriggle out a new beginning.
And in most cases such suspects stay on the death row for decades. Also a weak legal defence could lead to the execution of an innocent person. And in this case, the poor who do not have the resources to pay for competent and diligent counsel have often fallen victim.
Ironically, instead of being a deterrent, the death sentence really encourages crimes where it is applicable. What pain would be inflicted by executing a person whose mind is already made up to die in the course of committing a crime? A suicide terrorist who straps a bomb to his or her back would not be deterred by the prospect of being executed when found guilty by a law court. The death penalty also denies the Government an opportunity of reforming criminals, whereas there have been convicts who have come out of prison to live normal lives.
Above all, a society should foster an environment that is not conducive to crime. But with unmitigated socio-economic injustice, with the few who are rich living ostentatiously in the midst of the grinding poverty of the majority of the population, and with the people’s confidence in the judiciary waning, such a society is a breeding ground for crimes that attract the death penalty. So, rather than endorsing the death penalty, the Government of Cameroon should remove it from its law books, think of more effective ways to curb crime while it truly seeks to serve the people or build a just society with good governance.

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