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Statement on the Executions

Today, four death row inmates, one in the Tokyo Detention Center, two in the Nagoya Detention Center, and one in the Fukuoka Detention Center, were executed.


This is the second execution since Mr. Eisuke MORI assumed the office of the Minister of Justice, and only three months after the last execution on October 28, 2008.


Currently, Japan’s death penalty system is getting more attention than ever from the international community. Abolition of the death penalty is now the international trend and movements calling for all States that still maintain the death penalty, such as Japan, to suspend executions or limit the application of the death penalty are getting stronger. The United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for a moratorium on executions on December 18, 2008 by overwhelming numbers that exceeded the support of a similar resolution the year before last. This clearly shows the above mentioned worldwide movements.


In Japan, on the other hand, both death sentences and executions have rapidly increased in recent years. In response to these circumstances, the UN Human Rights Council, as well as UN bodies for human rights treaties which Japan has ratified, have shown great concern during the Universal Periodic Review and have advised that along with guaranteeing the rights of those facing the death penalty, a moratorium be placed on executions with a view towards abolishing the death penalty.


Especially, the UN Human Rights Committee made many recommendations last October for fundamental reform to the death penalty system in Japan, including: to favorably consider abolishing the death penalty without avoiding discussions regardless of opinion polls, to adopt a more humane approach with regard to the execution of persons with mental disabilities, to give reasonable advance notice of the scheduled date and time of the execution, and to introduce a mandatory appeal system and ensure the suspensive effect of requests for retrial in such cases.


However, among the four inmates executed today, two had withdrawn their appeals by themselves and one of them consistently claimed throughout his trial that he had a mental disorder. These situations raise serious doubts in relation to the above-mentioned recommendations.


All recommendations reiterated by UN bodies were made based on the recognition that the death penalty is the ultimate punishment which denies the most fundamental human right: the right to life. Thus the death penalty system is a vital issue concerning human rights. Human rights issues should not be decided by public opinion or votes, and, needless to say, it is not acceptable to enhance the application of the death penalty and increase executions by using public opinion as a shield to do so. Japanese society is more concerned about the death penalty system and its operation as the Saiban-in System is about to start and now is a great opportunity to share information about problems within the death penalty system widely with the public and to seek the right direction for reforming the system.


We hereby strongly request again that the government of Japan introduce a moratorium on executions for a certain period of time until a thorough review of the death penalty system, including the consideration of whether to retain or abolish it, and the necessary reforms are made.


January 29, 2009
Makoto Miyazaki
Japan Federation of Bar Associations


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