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Special Report – UK MPs call for the death penalty to be abolished in India

March 17, 2013 | By

London, United Kingdom (March 14, 2013): John McDonnell MP and Fabian Hamilton MP the co-sponsors of the debate in the UK Parliament on 28 February in their speeches provided background to the death penalty in India and how India had ended its unofficial eight year moratorium on 21 November 2012.

John McDonnell admitted:

John McDonnell MP and Fabian Hamilton

‘The eight-year moratorium lulled us into a false sense of security. Naively, many of us thought that although India retained the death penalty on the statute book the continuation of the moratorium was an indication that it would eventually be abolished once and for all. Unfortunately, that was a naive judgment.’ – John McDonnell MP (Lab) – Hayes and Harlington

Fabian Hamilton MP (Lab) – Leeds North East

Fabian Hamilton stated: ‘Pranab Mukherjee, India’s President, has now ordered the death penalty for seven convicts in the past seven months, which is more than any other Indian President in the past 15 years. India is currently reporting one death penalty sentence every third day, according to The Times of India this month.’

‘Human rights activists in India are worried that this precedent could affect the 500 or so people now on death row in India, including political prisoners such as Professor Davinderpal Singh Bhullar and Balwant Singh Rajoana. As of 11 February 2013, 476 convicts were on death row in India.’ – Fabian Hamilton MP (Lab) – Leeds North East

Professor Davinderpal Singh Bhullar:

As expected the case that received the most attention during the debate was that of Professor Davinderpal Singh Bhullar. The person that spoke with the greatest passion, especially about the Professor was Fabian Hamilton. Using the Sikh Federation (UK) briefing he gave a detailed account of the Professor’s case and said: ‘his case is a real cause célèbre; he has been tortured and treated inhumanely in prison.’

He set out why he had to flee India for Germany in December 1994 and how he was deported in January 1995. The fact the Indian authorities gave specific assurances to the German authorities that Professor Bhullar had nothing to fear if he was returned to India and that he would not be tortured. Fabian Hamilton stated: ‘By deporting someone to a death penalty-prone country, Germany violated the European convention on human rights and remains morally obliged to do all it can now to seek the professor’s immediate release.’

He continued: ‘Professor Bhullar was examined by a police-assigned medical doctor. Although the professor is a highly educated man, his medical examination document is co-signed by him with a thumbprint. We know that the case against Professor Bhullar is highly dubious; it is based on information that has not been properly corroborated, with the prosecution having offered no corroboration at all. None of its 133 witnesses identified Professor Bhullar. Many witnesses actually claimed he was not the man they had seen. One prosecution witness, a rickshaw worker in Delhi, informed the court that he had no knowledge of the case but had been threatened and forced by the police to provide a false statement. Almost every legal system in the world is based on the idea of proof beyond reasonable doubt and respects procedures in order to obtain safe evidence. The Supreme Court of India seems to have departed from those things in the most important of all cases—that of the death penalty—thus setting an unfortunate new precedent for Indian law.’

Balwant Singh Rajoana

The other prominent case that received numerous mentions in the debate was that of Balwant Singh Rajoana. John McDonnell pointed out his case has immense significance around the world and is important for its historical context as it symbolises the suffering of the Sikhs at the hands of the former Chief Minister Beant Singh in that period.

John McDonnell stated: ‘We now know that Beant Singh personally commanded the police and security forces in the killing and disappearance of possibly more than 20,000 Sikhs—men, women and children. Faced with the failure of the Indian authorities to take action against the former Chief Minister for his crimes against humanity, Balwant Singh . . . took the law into . . . (his) own hands.’

In the debate MPs one after the other called for India to abolish the death penalty, including Hugo Swire MP, the Minister representing the Government. Some of the statements made are reproduced below:

‘Let me state clearly from the outset that the Government strongly supports the worldwide abolition of the death penalty. We believe that the death penalty undermines human dignity, that there is no conclusive evidence of its deterrent value, and that any miscarriage of justice leading to its imposition is both irreversible and irreparable.’

Hugo Swire MP, Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

‘It remains the British Government’s long-standing policy to oppose the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle, and I hope the Indian Government will re-establish a moratorium on executions in line with the global trend towards the abolition of capital punishment. When I was in Delhi last week, I reiterated the British Government’s position on the death penalty to India’s Foreign Secretary, Ranjan Mathai. We will also raise our concerns about the death penalty at the EU-India human rights dialogue, which we hope will take place soon.’ – Hugo Swire MP, Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

‘I call upon the UK Government to use every forum and every mechanism of communication established with India, formal and informal, to press the Indian Government to halt the executions now and sign up to the UN convention opposing the death penalty. I urge the Indian Government to join now that community of nations that have renounced the use of the death penalty and have abolished it once and for all’ – John McDonnell MP (Lab) – Hayes and Harlington

‘It is very important that we in this Chamber make clear our views on the death penalty still being in use in India and around the world. We should stand up and show that we totally disapprove of that, and say that all nations should abolish the death penalty. It is tragic that India . . . still uses the death penalty. Our purpose today is to represent the views of the many Sikh . . . citizens in our constituencies . . . to show that we want to see India . . . abolish the death penalty for good.’

‘India should honour articles 3 and 5 of the universal declaration of human rights: the right to life and not to be tortured or subject to any cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment. We want India to be there with us in the group of nations that say that the inhumanity of the death penalty should be abolished. There should not be a moratorium; there should be a complete abolition. I hope that India will see the sense of abolishing, once and for all, this inhuman and evil act of execution.’ – Fabian Hamilton MP (Lab) – Leeds North East

‘Although a moratorium is desirable, the intent should really be outright abolition, because history teaches us that moratoriums are not always an effective long-term solution. As has already been mentioned, India has had a moratorium, and it has ended—the consequences of that remain to be seen.’

‘There are real concerns that the existence of the death penalty in India will exacerbate the tensions within Indian society rather than achieving a better long-term solution.’

‘The human aspect for those under threat of the death penalty must also be a considerable concern to us. It is inhumane treatment to leave a human being on death row for many years. No one should have to go through the psychological trauma of not knowing if or when their appeal may be heard and they may be executed. That is not a mark of a decent society. If India became a more active proponent of the death penalty, that would have significant implications for . . . the UK.’

‘On the issue of the (abolition of the) death penalty it is often the politicians who have to lead public opinion, not the other way around. They should have the courage to halt executions immediately, and to step forward not just to reinstate a moratorium but to effect outright abolition.’ – Richard Fuller MP (Con) – Bedford

‘I . . . impress upon the Indian Government: the need for the abolition of the death penalty in India. The death penalty is abhorrent to the vast majority of Members . . . We want to make the call for its abolition loud and clear.’ – Geoffrey Robinson MP (Lab) – Coventry North West

Fiona McTaggart MP (Lab) – Slough

‘We expect you (India) . . . to promote the standards of democracy and human rights that we expect, and to recognise that if the death penalty is used in this way, there is a risk that you will deepen the divisions between ethnic and religious communities in the country. There is a risk that you will make your country less safe and less peaceful for all who live in it.’ – Fiona McTaggart MP (Lab) – Slough

Seema Malhotra MP (Lab) – Feltham and Heston

‘We participate in many debates in this House, but this one is literally about life and death. I have had a long-standing personal opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances and I am proud to live in a country where it has been abolished. This is a matter of humanity and, as someone once said, it is not for the state to kill people who kill people to show that killing is wrong’. – Seema Malhotra MP (Lab) – Feltham and Heston

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