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Statement on Executions of Death Penalty


Three inmates whose death sentences had been finalized were executed today, each at the Tokyo Detention House, the Osaka Detention House, and the Fukuoka Detention House.


The Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA) has repeatedly requested the Ministry of Justice to suspend executions until the national debate over retention or abolition of the death penalty is exhausted. It is deeply regrettable that despite the JFBA's request, today's executions were conducted within two months after the executions of nine death row inmates last December, which implies that the state continues to actively carry out executions this year.


In Japan, four persons whose death sentences had been finalized won retrials and were found innocent (Menda, Saitagawa, Matsuyama, and Shimada cases). These cases proved that misjudgments existed in sentencing to death. However, the institutional and operational problems which caused these misjudgments have not yet been fundamentally resolved and the possibility of other such misjudgments still remains. Moreover, divergent rulings have been made by the courts one case after another on whether to impose the death penalty or life imprisonment. It is apparent that there are no clear standards for sentencing the death penalty.


Inmates on death row in Japan are in conditions which infringe the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and resolutions of the United Nations (UN). Especially, communication with the outside is strictly restricted and it extremely restrains the death row inmates from exercising their rights including appeal for retrial and request for amnesty. The Law Concerning Penal Institutions and the Treatment of Sentenced Inmates that recently came into effect has been expected to improve penal institutions in practice. However, rights of death row inmates have not been sufficiently protected yet. For example, penal institution guards are still present when a death row inmate is consulting his/her attorney for a retrial. Immediate executions under such conditions are problematic.


Regarding the death penalty, the UN General Assembly adopted the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the abolition of the death penalty on December 15, 1989, which entered into force in 1991. Every year since April 1997, the UN Commission on Human Rights (reorganized into the UN Human Rights Council in 2006) adopted resolutions on the abolition of the death penalty calling upon all States that have not yet abolished the death penalty, such as Japan, to observe the UN Safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty and to consider suspending executions, with a view to completely abolishing the death penalty. Under this situation, the number of countries which have abolished the death penalty has been steadily increasing. As of December 24, 2007, 62 countries decreasing in number from 96 countries in 1990 still retain the death penalty, while 135 countries increasing in number from 80 countries in 1990 have abolished the death penalty by law or in practice as they have not executed for more than ten years. It is apparent that the international trend is toward the abolishment of the death penalty.


The Concluding Observations of the UN Committee against Torture on May 18, 2007, which were issued after considering the report by the Japanese Government, clearly pointed out the problems concerning the Japanese death penalty system and recommended an immediate moratorium on executions.


In addition, the UN General Assembly adopted, by an overwhelming majority on December 18, 2007, a resolution calling for a moratorium on executions to be established in all States that still maintain the death penalty. Prior to the resolution, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights unusually and deeply deplored the executions carried out on December 17, 2007, in Japan.


Currently, Japan is expected to openly and continuously discuss the death penalty, including how Japan should respond to the above mentioned recommendations and resolutions, and hasty executions are not expected. Today's executions are tantamount to a declaration to the international community that Japan does not respect the ratified Convention and does not listen to the international voices.


The JFBA issued the Recommendations on the Capital Punishment System in November 2002, advocating that a statute should be enacted, in force for a limited period of time, providing that execution of death sentences shall be suspended for such a period of time, so that the issue of whether to retain or abolish capital punishment might be discussed thoroughly and extensively by the public and so that necessary improvement or reforms might be made.


The JFBA once again urges the government to openly disclose the information on not only names of executed inmates but the overall system of the death penalty. It also strongly urges the suspension of executions for a certain period so that the issue of whether to retain or abolish the death penalty might be discussed thoroughly and extensively by the public and so that necessary improvements can be made.


Seigoh Hirayama
Japan Federation of Bar Associations
February 1, 2008


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