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Statement on Finalized Death Sentences for Three Juveniles

Today, the Supreme Court turned down appeals by three defendants sentenced to death for killing four people in Osaka, Aichi and Gifu prefectures in autumn 1994, at a time when they were minors.


Since the Supreme Court ruling on the Nagayama Case (July 8,1983), in which the defendant, who was a minor at the time of his crime, was sentenced to death and which is often referred to as a precedent for setting out the criteria to be used when handing down a death sentence, only two defendants who had been minors at the time of their crimes had been sentenced to death. Today’s ruling finalized death sentences for a further three such defendants.


Regarding the death penalty, on December 15, 1989, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming towards the abolition of the death penalty. The Second Optional Protocol subsequently entered into force in 1991. Since April 1997, the UN Commission on Human Rights (reorganized into the UN Human Rights Council in 2006) has 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. In October 2008, the UN Human Rights Committee recommended that, regardless of the results of public opinion polls, the Japanese government should favorably consider abolishing the death penalty and inform the public, as necessary, about the desirability of such abolition.


The number of countries which have abolished the death penalty has been steadily increasing. Currently, 58 countries (decreasing in number from 96 countries in 1990) still retain the death penalty, while 139 countries (increasing in number from 80 countries in 1990) have abolished the death penalty by law or in practice as they have not conducted executions for more than ten years. It is apparent that the international trend is toward the abolishment of the death penalty.


The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which took effect in 1994 in Japan, recalls the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice ("The Beijing Rules") which provide that a juvenile is a child or young person who, under the respective legal systems, may be dealt with over an offence in a manner which is different from an adult, and that capital punishment shall not be imposed for any crime committed by juveniles.


It is truly regrettable that despite this situation the Supreme Court finalized the death sentences for these three defendants who were minors at the time of their crimes without taking account the nature of juvenile crimes.


The Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA) has been requesting that the government thoroughly discuss and review the death penalty system, including consideration of the retention or abolition of the system, proposing in its "Recommendations on the Capital Punishment System" (2002), that a statute, tentatively named, the "Act on Suspension of Executions," should be enacted, in force for a limited period of time, providing that the execution of death sentences should be stayed for a certain period of time, so that the issue of whether to retain or abolish the death penalty system could be discussed thoroughly and extensively by the people of Japan and any necessary improvements or reforms could be made. In response to today's ruling, the JFBA reiterates its request for the government to immediately enact the Act on Suspension of Executions and conduct a thorough discussion and review of the death penalty system, including consideration of the retention or abolition of the system.


March 10, 2011
Kenji Utsunomiya
Japan Federation of Bar Associations

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