Statement Strongly Protesting Today’s Executions and Calling for an Immediate Moratorium and the Abolition of the Death Penalty by 2020
Today, two capital inmates, including the one in the midst of applying for retrials, were executed at the Osaka Detention House. Adding the seven executions carried out on July 6 and the six on July 26, 15 inmates in total have been executed this year alone. This is the first occasion on which the current Minister of Justice, Takashi Yamashita, has given the order to perform executions since he took office in October this year, which marked the 15th time that executions have been carried out under the second Abe Administration. The total number of executions during that time has now reached 36.
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 Rights 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 (the “Congress”).
A life taken by crime can never be brought back, and such crime should never be tolerated and it is quite understandable for bereaved family members to seek harsh punishment against the offender. Society as a whole is under a moral obligation to render sufficient support to victims of crime and their family members who have had to endure this most painful experience.
On the other hand, however, it is important to note that the penal system should serve not only the purpose of achieving retribution for crimes, but also rehabilitation of offenders, which will aid in the prevention of recidivism, and consequently lead to the achievement of increased safety throughout society as a whole. To this end, the penal system (particularly the death penalty) should be reviewed in its entirety. From this aspect of the total reform of the penal system, the Government must never fail to take note of the fact that capital punishment allows and empowers the state to deprive people of the right to life, which is at the core of fundamental human rights, as proclaimed in Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as Article 13 of the Constitution of Japan.
In Japan, there were four cases of exonerations in the 1980s wherein the defendants’ finalized death sentences were overturned after retrial. These cases serve as an important reminder that the risks of wrongful conviction and miscarriages of justice are very possible and real. In addition, there is another death-penalty case, referred to as the Hakamada case, for which the JFBA is assisting in seeking a retrial. This case also involves the possibility of a false accusation, and the proceedings for retrial are currently ongoing. For those facing the death penalty, the rights to counsel and defense should be sufficiently guaranteed throughout all stages of criminal procedures before the execution is carried out. The execution of death row inmates in the retrial process is also problematic from this perspective.
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 cases where the penalty of life imprisonment without parole was introduced, 37.7% of all respondents said that the death penalty should be abolished. This suggests that the situation where the death penalty is retained on the grounds of the support by a large majority of the public could be changed under conditions wherein sufficient information about the death penalty is given and alternatives to the death penalty are in place.
More than two-thirds of the nations in the world have abolished the death penalty in law or practice (as of December 2017). 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), among which only Japan retains the death penalty in law and practice as state policy.
There is a strong trend towards abolishing the death penalty in the international community, which can be recognized by the resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 17, 2018 gaining a recorded number of votes in favor. Only a small number of nations still retain the death penalty and actually carry out executions. In this regard, Japan has been continuously subjected to various recommendations by the UN Human Rights Committee, the UN Committee Against Torture, and the UN Human Rights Council, to cease executions and to favorably consider abolishing the death penalty.
Furthermore, in the purpose and general principles of the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) concluded between Japan and the EU and its member states, the parties state their desire to “contribute jointly to the promotion of shared values and principles, in particular democracy, the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms.” In the case where Japan continues to carry out executions, the EU and its member states, which expressly oppose and are working toward the abolition of the death penalty, will surely be concerned about whether or not both parties truly share the said common values and principles of human rights and fundamental freedom. In fact, it would be out of such concern that, after the executions conducted this July, statements calling for the abolition of the death penalty have been issued by the EU Delegation and Ambassadors to Japan of the EU member states, the German Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid, the French Ambassador, and others one after another.
The Government should respond to the message calling for the abolition of death penalty from the international community by actually abolishing the system. Japan would be thereby attain a higher international reputation, and it could be recognized that Japan has established a favorable environment for the Olympic and the Paralympic Games as well as the Congress to be held in Japan in 2020.
Through this statement, the JFBA hereby strongly protests the executions conducted today, and reiterates its stance that the Government should immediately suspend all executions, looking towards the total abolition of the death penalty system in Japan by 2020.
December 27, 2018
Japan Federation of Bar Associations