Statement Strongly Protesting Today’s Executions and Calling for an Immediate Moratorium and the Abolition of the Death Penalty by 2020
Today, a total of seven capital inmates were executed: three at the Tokyo Detention House, two at the Osaka Detention House, one at the Hiroshima Detention House, and one at the Fukuoka Detention House. Among the executed individuals, six were seeking retrial, including one who was strongly suspected of having been in a state of insanity. This was the second time that executions have been authorized by the current Minister of Justice Yoko Kamikawa, who took office in August 2017, while it has brought the total number of inmates executed under the second Abe Administration to 28.
When a crime results in the loss of life, the victim of the crime can never be brought back. Accordingly, such crimes should never be tolerated and it is certainly natural and understandable for the bereaved family members to seek severe punishment against the offenders. However, it is important to remember that the penal system serves not only the purpose of achieving retribution for crimes but also rehabilitation of offenders. This will aid in the prevention of recidivism and contribute 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 victims of crime and their families with full support while reviewing the penal system in its entirety, including a thorough review of the death penalty in particular.
In Japan, there were four cases of exonerations in the 1980s wherein the defendants’ finalized death sentences were overturned after retrial. In addition, there is currently an ongoing death-penalty case, referred to as the Hakamada case, in which a decision to reopen the case made by the Shizuoka District Court was overturned by the Tokyo High Court. The special appeal against the High Court decision filed by the defense counsel is currently subject to review by the Supreme Court. These cases serve as an important reminder that the risks of wrongful conviction and miscarriages of justice are very possible and real. For those facing the death penalty, the rights to counsel and defense should be sufficiently guaranteed throughout all stages of a criminal case including pretrial, trial, retrial and execution of the penalty. The execution of death row inmates in the retrial process is also problematic from this perspective.
Further, on June 18, 2018, in response to a demand from private citizens for redress of human rights abuses, the JFBA recommended the Minister of Justice to suspend the execution of eight death row inmates who were highly suspected of being in a state of insanity. One of the inmates executed today was included among such eight individuals. As stated in the said recommendation, there should be a mechanism to assess the mental state of death row inmates, separate from the Ministry of Justice, and such separate mechanism is vital from the perspective of guaranteeing due process of law. Nevertheless, the death penalty was executed by order of the Minister of Justice without any initiative toward such legislative improvements.
An opinion poll conducted by the Cabinet Office in November 2014 revealed that 80.3% of respondents replied that the “death penalty was unavoidable.” However, among such respondents, 40.5% said, in response to an additional question, that “the death penalty could be abolished in the future if the situation changes.” With regard to the question of whether or not the death penalty should be abolished in the case where the penalty of life imprisonment without parole was introduced, 37.7% of all respondents supported such idea. Thus, it should be recognized that the public opinion toward acceptance of the abolition of the death penalty can be better formed under conditions wherein sufficient information about the death penalty is given and alternatives to the death penalty are in place.
As of December 2017, a total of 142 nations have abolished the death penalty in law or practice by not carrying out any executions for more than 10 years, among which, 106 nations have abolished the death penalty for all crimes. Among the member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), only three countries retain the death penalty, namely, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the United States (USA). However, the Republic of Korea is an “abolitionist in practice”, and as of October 2017, 19 US States have abolished the death penalty and 4 US States have declared a moratorium on executions. Therefore, Japan remains the only OECD member nation that retains the death penalty in law and practice as state policy.
Given the above, it can be seen that the trend towards abolition of the death penalty is the mainstream opinion of the international community, whereas there are only a minor number of nations, including Japan, which still retain the death penalty and actually carry out executions. In this regard, Japan has been continuously subject to various recommendations by the UN Human Rights Committee in 1993, 1998, 2008, and 2014, the UN Committee Against Torture in 2007 and 2013, and the UN Human Rights Council in 2008 and 2012, to cease executions and to favorably consider abolishing the death penalty. International criticism and concerns may arise again in relation to the executions carried out today.
In 2020, Japan will host the Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games and the UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. The international community will be keeping a close eye on Japan during such timing and the Japanese government should take into consideration the detrimental impact on Japan’s international reputation which may be brought by carrying out executions. Such concern has already been expressed by the JFBA in the Opinion entitled Re: Request to Suspend Executions, submitted to the Minister of Justice on March 29, 2018.
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 has called on the Japanese government to aim for the abolition of the death penalty by 2020 when Japan hosts the UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice.
It is necessary for the Japanese government to accept that the death penalty is a punishment constituting the deprivation of life and that it is a grave and serious human rights violation being committed by the state. Through this statement, the JFBA hereby strongly protests the executions conducted today, and reiterates its stance that the government should suspend any and all executions, looking towards the total abolition of the death penalty system in Japan by 2020.
July 6, 2018
Japan Federation of Bar Associations