Declaration Calling for Establishment of Measures for Rehabilitation of Convicted Persons and Cross-Society Discussion on Abolition of the Death Penalty
Citizens are becoming increasingly concerned about penalties including the death penalty as they have come to participate in criminal trials and have become engaged in fact-finding and sentencing under the Saiban-in (lay judge) system. However, there has not been sufficient level of discussions among citizens concerning the issues of: “What are crimes?” and “What are penalties?” Even though, as provided by Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” there are various forms of discrimination in the real world and many are forced into poverty and deprived of their freedom, dignity, and rights under unreasonable restrictions. It should be noted that there are more than a few such problems behind crimes from misdemeanors to the most serious felonies on which the death penalty may be imposed. Various causes lead to crimes and merely imposing punishments as retribution will not be enough to solve the problems behind criminal acts and will not bring about the realization of a truly safe society.
Certainly, punishing the offenders in proportion with seriousness of their offenses is an important objective of penalties. However, these days, it is understood in Japan that penalties are inflicted solely as retribution. The public tends to refuse to face the various problems behind crimes and instead inflict penalties on those individuals who have committed crimes in order to impose the entire responsibility on them. Furthermore, it should be noted that even though it is an objective fact that, according to recent crime statistics, the number of heinous crimes has not increased and that the total number of crimes is actually on the decrease, there is a trend toward inflicting severer punishments in the criminal justice field as a whole, as can be seen in the legislation to increase the severity of statutory penalties and the tougher sentences handed down in criminal trials while inmates in penal institutions are not provided with sufficient treatment for their reformation and thus not provided opportunities for rehabilitation.
Japan retains the death penalty as a criminal sanction. However, the death penalty is an inhumane penalty which deprives people of their precious lives. In addition, from the view point of the reformation and rehabilitation of convicted persons mentioned above, the death penalty contains a fundamental problem that it completely removes the possibility of rehabilitation of prisoners after their reformation. Paragraph 3, Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Japan, stipulates that, “The penitentiary system shall comprise treatment of prisoners the essential aim of which shall be their reformation and social rehabilitation.” The State should accept the possibility that persons who have committed serious crimes could eventually be reintegrated into society and that it is the responsibility of the State to provide effective treatment for such persons with a view to their reformation. Japan is now expected to realize a society in which all people are able to live together by fundamentally reforming the systems for treatment and rehabilitation of convicted persons and by linking these systems to the welfare system without closing the door to the opportunities for the reformation of such individuals.
For many years, various problems in the Japanese death penalty system have been pointed out. As we can see from the four cases in which defendants had been sentenced to death but were subsequently acquitted by retrials, it is obvious that the death penalty system has failed at the most fundamental level since there will always be the possibility of a miscarriage of justice and the damages resulting from such wrongful judgments can never be recovered once such persons have been executed. Furthermore, Japan does not sufficiently guarantee the right to counsel and the right to defense for those facing the death penalty throughout the criminal procedure including pre-trial and retrial stages. There are also numerous problems at the execution stage concerning the protection of human rights of inmates whose death sentences have been finalized. Execution, by its very nature, deprives people of their lives with certainty and thus infringes on such individuals’ right to life. The brutality of executions must not be denied, regardless of whichever methods are used. For these reasons, the abolition of the death penalty is an unwavering international trend. Taking these matters into consideration, we should immediately suspend executions and conduct cross-society discussions on the abolition of the death penalty. In particular, regarding juvenile criminals, who are greatly affected by the environments in which they grow up, we should remember that if the full responsibility for their acts is imposed on juveniles and they are thus sentenced to death, this is clearly not the way in which a fair criminal justice system should function.
The Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA) urges the State to promote and realize measures as follows:
- The State should promote effective measures to avoid unnecessary imprisonment as a penalty.
- When a convicted person is imprisoned as a penalty, effective treatment should be actively provided for such person in order to facilitate their social reintegration. For this purpose, the State should enhance a linkage between correction and probation services, nurture human resources and secure experts for these practices, and enhance the Self-Support Rehabilitation Promotion Centers and Employment Support Centers.
- Parole should be actively permitted, to the greatest extent and as soon as reasonably possible, for those who are imprisoned for definite terms. Assistance to be provided for such individuals after their release into society should be enhanced. For those imprisoned for life, fundamental reform of the system for parole should be carried out since a life sentence in Japan is now almost literally imprisonment for life without the possibility of parole.
- In order to support smooth rehabilitation of convicted persons, collaboration between the correction and probation sectors and the welfare sector should be enhanced and strengthened. Welfare services should also be improved.
- Regarding the death penalty, which completely closes the door to the possibility of the rehabilitation of convicted persons, cross-society discussion on the abolition should immediately be commenced and executions should be suspended while the issue is being discussed. Information necessary to discuss the death penalty system, including the standards, procedure, and method of executions, should be broadly disclosed. In particular, the State should consider the immediate cessation of the application of the death penalty to juvenile criminals who were under the age of 20 at the time of their crimes.
- In the meantime, until cross-society discussions on the abolition of the death penalty has been exhausted, the State should immediately start to revise the death penalty system so that: a death sentence should be handed down only by a unanimous decision; if a death sentence is handed down the case is automatically sent to a higher court; and public prosecutors are prohibited from filing an appeal seeking a death sentence. In addition, the right to counsel and the right to defense of those facing the death penalty should be sufficiently guaranteed through all the stages in their positions as suspects and/or defendants, and in their retrial requests and executions. In addition, the treatment of those whose death sentences have been finalized should be improved.
The JFBA strives to ensure that the dignity and fundamental human rights of convicted persons are respected and that the path for their rehabilitation is secured. We also call for an immediate cross-society discussion on the abolition of the death penalty.
We declare as above.
Japan Federation of Bar Associations