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'Kasab's hanging step backward for India's justice system'

November 22, 2012 14:45 IST
Human Rights Watch said that India should take prompt action to abolish capital punishment, reports Vicky Nanjappa

Reacting to the execution of 26/11 terrorist Ajmal Kasab, the Human Rights Watch has demanded that the Indian government should immediately reinstate its moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing death penalty.

India ended its eight-year unofficial moratorium on executions on Wednesday after it hanged Kasab, convicted for his role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people and wounded more than 300, HRW said.

"The hanging of Kasab marks a distressing end to India's moratorium on executions and is a step backwards for India's justice system," said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at HRW.

"The government should take prompt and decisive action toward a total abolition of capital punishment," she added.

India executed Kasab just two days after it opposed a draft resolution by the United Nations General Assembly's human rights committee calling for a global moratorium on capital punishment. India was among the 39 countries that voted against the resolution, which was adopted with 110 votes in favour. Thirty-six countries abstained.

HRW opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently irreversible, inhumane punishment. India has maintained that it imposes capital punishment in only the "rarest of rare" cases. However, the lack of legal safeguards to prevent the execution of individuals whose crimes do not meet the Indian government's ambiguous "rarest of rare" criteria is a serious concern, HRW said.

In July 2012, 14 retired Supreme Court and high court judges asked President Pranab Mukherjee to commute the death sentences of 13 inmates erroneously upheld by the apex court over the past nine years. This followed the court's admission that some of these death sentences were rendered per incuriam (out of error or ignorance).

In November, the SC ruled that the "rarest of rare" standard for capital punishment had not been applied uniformly over the years and the norms on death penalty needed "a fresh look."

"Capital punishment is an act of cruel, pre-meditated killing sanctioned by the law," Ganguly said. "India can demonstrate to the world that it's as committed to justice as it is to economic development by joining those nations that have decided to abolish the death penalty."
Vicky Nanjappa