Statement Strongly Protesting Executions and Calling to Enact Legislation to Abolish the Death Penalty and Place a Moratorium on All Executions until the Death Penalty is Abolished
Today (on December 21, 2021), three death row inmates were executed at the Tokyo Detention Center and the Osaka Detention Center. The executions were carried out only 79 days after the formation of the Kishida Cabinet where the Minister of Justice, Yoshihisa Furukawa, was appointed.
The last execution prior to the above took place on December 26, 2019. In March 2021, the 14th UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice was held in Kyoto, where the Japanese criminal justice system caught the world’s attention. Under these circumstances, it is quite regrettable that the three death row prisoners were executed today, despite the fact that no execution had been carried out for approximately two years until today. Moreover, given that a retrial had been sought for one of the executed inmates, the executions conducted today deserve unreserved condemnation.
The Japan Federation of Bar Associations (the “JFBA”) has long been urging that the Government aim to abolish the death penalty. At its 59th Convention on the Protection of Human Rights in 2016, the Declaration Calling for Reform of the Penal System Including Abolition of the Death Penalty was adopted.
The JFBA has repeatedly pointed out the issues embedded in the death penalty system, and in recent years, it has become apparent that retaining the death penalty is no longer tolerated from a diplomatic standpoint as well.
The global tide of abolishing the death penalty is gaining more momentum, as exemplified by the U.S. Attorney General’s issuing of a memorandum imposing a moratorium on scheduling federal executions. If the death penalty is abolished in the U.S., Japan will be left as the sole country carrying out executions among the OECD’s 38 members.
In the negotiation of the Japan-Australia Reciprocal Access Agreement, Japan’s retention of the death penalty is commonly understood as an obstacle blocking the way to signing it. In 2020, media reported that the South African authorities rejected extradition of a suspect to Japan on the grounds that Japan retains the death penalty.
As to whether the death penalty should be retained or abolished, the Ministry of Justice deems that “it should be, basically, decided uniquely by individual states.” However, it is clearly no longer possible to argue the pros and cons of the death penalty without taking account of the international point of view.
Last year, the Legislative Council of the Ministry of Justice issued an advisory report proposing to amend the criminal punishment system and integrate the imprisonment with work and the imprisonment without work into a new custodial sentence. The amendment implies a shift in the punishment system from imposing a penalty to focusing on rehabilitation and education. The death penalty is a penalizing system that does not intend to rehabilitate offenders and hence, it is inconsistent with the philosophy of the new custodial sentence.
For many years, the reasoning underpinning the Ministry of Justice’s justification for retaining the death penalty has been the outcome of opinion polls showing the majority of the public being in favor of the death penalty. However, the findings from opinion polls have also indicated a likelihood that, depending on the protocol of an alternative punishment, the abolition of the death penalty may be accepted. In addition, the UN Human Rights Committee and other UN human rights bodies have frequently advised the Japanese Government to favorably consider abolishing the death penalty “regardless of opinion polls.” Thus, justifying the retention of the death penalty on the grounds of opinion polls’ results is no longer warranted.
Accordingly, the JFBA strongly condemns the executions carried out today, and echoes its call to enact legislation to abolish the death penalty and place a moratorium on all executions until the death penalty is abolished.
December 21, 2021
President, Japan Federation of Bar Associations