As this column in the Washington Times by Debra Saunders reports, a court in the Netherlands has sentenced the killer of Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn to 18 years in prison, with the expectation that he will be released after serving just 12. Volkert van der Graaf shot Fortuyn five times at point blank range nine days before the Dutch election in 2002. Fortuyn, a candidate for prime minister, was running second in the polls. The 18-year sentence was imposed by a three-judge panel. As in much of Europe, there are no jury trials in the Netherlands.
The incredibly light sentence is probably the product of two disturbing trends in European jurisprudence. First, EU countries not only bar the death penalty, they strongly discourage life sentences for murderers. As Saunders points out, the EU has issued a policy paper that criticizes life sentences and calls for “keeping imprisonment to an absolute minimum.” Second, criminal sentencing is too often influenced by considerations of political correctness. Fortuyn was not politically correct because, among other things, he referred to Islam as a “backward religion” and called for a moratorium on immigration. He also wanted to re-legalize the breeding of animals for fur. Although I cannot prove that Fortuyn’s politics influenced his sentence, it is difficult otherwise to understand the imposition of such a lenient sentence on a killer who, according to Saunders, never acknowledged that killing Fortuyn was wrong. I also know that in war crimes trials, international courts sometimes cite factors such as the criminal’s impoverished upbringing as grounds for imposing light sentences.
Which brings us to the Treaty of Rome and the International Criminal Court. Conservatives usually cite the absence of fundamental due process protections in proceedings before that tribunal as their basis for not wanting to sign on, and indeed, this is sufficient reason not to do so. However, the substantive gap between European and American views on crime and punishment constitutes another sound reason.
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