A relentless campaign

Print edition : September 25, 1999

AMNESTY International has been conducting an intensive campaign to get the death sentence awarded to four persons - S. Nalini (33) and Perarivalan (24) (Indian nationals) and Nalini's husband Murugan (28) and Santhan (28) (Sri Lankans) - in the Rajiv Gan dhi assassination case commuted to life imprisonment. This campaign is based on the organisation's principled opposition to the death penalty and its aim to redress certain perceived flaws in the judicial process in the matter.

Amnesty has opposed the death penalty and in all cases in all countries on the ground that it is a violation of the right to life and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The organisation has time and agai n tried to mobilise the global collective conscience to express unconditional opposition to the death penalty as a violation of the right to life, emphasising that the punishment is never known to have acted as a deterrent or to have established retribut ive justice.

Amnesty has given special attention to the Rajiv Gandhi murder trial ever since the due process of law was initiated. It has issued press releases and communiques calling for international action whenever the need arose in its perception. Its latest and most comprehensive report and connected appeal was issued on August 12 (AI Index ASA 20/32/99). In the seven-page report, the organisation has traced the progress of the Rajiv Gandhi trial, the trial court convictions, the Supreme Court appeal and the su bsequent verdict. While being attentive to the perceived flaws in the judicial process, Amnesty has, however, focussed more attention on getting the death sentences commuted.

It has expressed concern that while Nalini, Murugan, Perarivalan and Santhan were acquitted by the Supreme Court of offences under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), the Supreme Court failed to consider the incompatibility o f certain provisions of TADA with international standards for fair trial when it held that their trial under those provisions should not be called into question.

"To confirm sentences of death imposed after a trial held under provisions of a law which has now lapsed following widespread criticism from national and international human rights bodies that it denied the right to a fair trial, is manifestly unsound," Amnesty has stated.

While reiterating that capital punishment is based on a misguided perception that the death penalty is an appropriate means of deterrence or retribution, Amnesty has also pointed out that though the Supreme Court has ruled that the death penalty could be applied only in the "rarest of the rarest cases", at least a dozen executions are carried out in India every year. It also draws attention to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights urging governments to impose a moratorium on executions, and has requested India to abolish the death penalty.

Even as Amnesty spearheads a campaign to get the death sentences commuted, the stay on the death sentence on the four convicts has been extended as a consequence of periodic appeals.

Amnesty hopes the Supreme Court will review the petition in the light of the concerns raised, and it has called upon the President of India to exercise his powers to commute the death sentences in case the petition is rejected.

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