Statement Strongly Protesting Against an Execution and Calling for an Immediate Moratorium and the Abolition of the Death Penalty by 2020
On December 19, 2017, two capital inmates were executed at the Tokyo Detention Center. Both had defense counsel who had filed a petition for retrial, and one of them was a minor when the crime was committed. It was the first decision on execution made by Yoko Kamikawa who took office as Minister of Justice in August 2017, while it was the 12th execution involving a total of 21 inmates conducted since the inauguration of the second Abe Administration.
Deprivation of the life of others is irreversible and can never be condoned. While it is certainly natural for the bereaved family of a victim to call for the strictest punishment possible, and their sentiment is fully understood, many of those who have committed crimes have their own familial, financial, educational, social or communal backgrounds that may have been contributing factors to their actions. The penal system is not solely for the purpose of retribution or punishment, but is also intended to contribute to the rehabilitation of those being punished. This will aid in the prevention of recidivism and the lead to the achievement of increased safety throughout society as a whole. As we aim to realize a democratic society which shows a deep respect for human rights, it is vital that we provide criminal victims and their families with full support while reviewing the penal system in its entirety, including the death penalty.
In Japan, during the 1980s alone, there were four cases where the defendant was convicted and sentenced to death but was later found not guilty during a retrial. These include the Menda case, the Saitagawa case, the Matsuyama case and the Shimada case. The retrial decision in the Hakamada case made on March 27, 2014 serves as an important reminder to all of us that the possibility of a wrongful judgment or false accusation is viable and realistic.
It is necessary for the government to accept that the death penalty is a punishment constituting the deprivation of life and is a grave and serious human rights violation being committed by the state. An opinion poll conducted by the Cabinet Office in November 2014 revealed that 80.3% of respondents responded that the “death penalty was unavoidable,” while 37.7% of respondents supported the idea of “abolishment if a life-sentence is introduced.” These results indicate that it is possible to form the public opinion that accepts the abolition of the death penalty under the conditions that sufficient information about the death penalty is given and alternatives to the death penalty are in place.
As of the end of 2016, there are 141 nations around the world that have legislatively or virtually abolished the death penalty, including 104 nations that have done so through legislative means, 7 that have abolished it for regular offences, and 30 that have virtually abolished it (including those nations that have not executed any persons for more than 10 years). In total, this accounts for two thirds of all the nations of the world. Thus, it can be seen that, in the international community, the trend towards the abolishment of the death penalty is the mainstream view, whereas there are only a minor number of nations which still exercise such policy. The Human Rights Committee, the Committee Against Torture and the Human Rights Council of the United Nations have continually recommended Japan to stop executions and to start considering abolition in a positive way. These recommendations were made in 1993, 1998, 2008 and 2014 by the Human Rights Committee, in 2007 and 2013 by the Committee Against Torture, and in 2008 and 2012 by the Human Rights Council.
The JFBA adopted its “Declaration Calling for Reform of the Penal System including Abolition of the Death Penalty” during the 59th JFBA Convention on the Protection of Human Right on October 7, 2016, and urged the government of Japan to aim for the abolition of the death penalty by 2020 when Japan hosts the UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice.
For juvenile criminals who are susceptible to the environment in which they are raised, it should be questioned as to whether it is fair for the criminal justice system to have the ability to impose the death sentence thereon (“Declaration Calling for Establishment of Measures for Rehabilitation of Convicted Persons and Cross-Society Discussion on Abolition of the Death Penalty” adopted by the 54th Convention on the Protection of Human Right on October 7, 2011). Furthermore, from the viewpoint that the right to counsel and the right to defense for those facing the death penalty should be sufficiently guaranteed through all stages in their positions as suspects and defendants, as well as in their retrial requests and executions (as set forth in the above Declaration), the present execution of these two people raises serious questions.
Against this backdrop, the JFBA strongly protests the executions conducted on this occasion, and urges the government to suspend any and all executions, looking towards a total abolishment of the death penalty system in Japan by 2020.
December 19, 2017
Japan Federation of Bar Associations