Mara Stern, Staff Writer
April 22, 2016
“At least 1,634 people were executed during 2015, 573 more than recorded in 2014,” said Amnesty International in a recent report about the death penalty worldwide.These statistics constitute the highest number of executions since 1989.
Yves Dusenge, a Rwandan junior and QLSP scholar, shared his story and perspectives about his firsthand experience with executions in some of the 25 countries that contributed to these statistics.
Guilfordian: What does violence mean to you?
Dusenge: From my experience, anyone that is trying to trigger fear, that’s violence. I’ve been to countries where if a person steals, they are burned. That causes fear in others. If I see a thief being burned, I am scared, and I won’t steal. Executions are done to make sure that others won’t commit the same crime.
Guilfordian: The rise in executions include those from the government, as well as from the citizens. What do executions mean to you?
Dusenge: Execution for me is to end someone’s life without their destiny being taken into account. They have their determination taken away.
Guilfordian: If we have a rise in executions that is the largest in over 25 years, what do you think that means for the state of the world?
Dusenge: When areas are experiencing fear, let’s say terrorism and ISIS, countries reciprocate with instilling fear into those that break the law. So, when people break any kind of law, they feel that they need to make an example out of them. They want to make the point that no one should do this.
Guilfordian: You’ve lived in countries, like the United States, that sentence the death penalty as well as African countries that commit executions. Does it change the way you see a country if they put people to death?
Dusenge: For me, what makes it different is that I’ve seen a thief being killed with my own eyes. It’s scary. When you experience it, there’s a different feeling. It’s very scary. Sometimes, when I walked down the lines in the market, I held my hands in my pockets, so no one would think that I was taking anything. Because if they did, they would start attacking me, and I’d be dead. That’s what I think of executions.
Guilfordian: What was that experience like?
Dusenge: I was 15 and in Uganda. I was with my friends. We were shopping in this big market. The explanation that people give is that they have been working 24 hours trying to earn money to feed their kids, and this person is trying to cut corners. People just lash out: stone and burn them.
Guilfordian: What happened to them?
Dusenge: People hit him, hit him, hit him, slashed him and then just lit him up. The only people that could protect them would be the police, but if they don’t get there in time, it’s over.
Guilfordian: The police and the government are people that are supposed to protect and defend, but in some cases and some countries, they are the ones doing the killing. Does that make you think differently about your previous definitions?
Dusenge: In some cultures, society is the one that executes, but in other cultures, the police are the ones that do the executing. Maybe it’s an example of human nature and the need for power, but it’s interesting that as a collective people think they have the power to end someone else’s life. It’s scary. In my country, I’ve seen thieves being beaten up, but that’s all. They are always, from what I’ve seen, taken to the police after. They are punished and harmed.
Guilfordian: What’s the difference between harming and punishing to you?
Dusenge: Execution goes into punishing, not harming. Punishing is very cause-and-effect. Harming is less conscious.
Guilfordian: Do you think that it’s wrong to harm, punish or execute?
Dusenge: Yes, I think it’s wrong.
Guilfordian: Most executions took place in China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the USA. What do you think of the practice’s prominence in the world?
Dusenge: When I was in primary school, if we did something wrong, we would call it punishment. But if you go back to colonization, humans want to control people. Maybe not physically but there are ways to control others. I’m trying to imagine a perfect world, and I guess that in that world executions wouldn’t be the norm. But there have to be ways to relay to others that harming, even indirectly, is not okay.
At Guilford, we honor the value of equality. If someone does something to infringe on that value, do we have the right to punish? We can “punish” from a place of love that teaches instead of harming. For example, if we taught prisoners at Guantanamo Bay about contributing to their community and allowed time for reflection and to punish in a way that makes them see what’s wrong, the world would be better.