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November 20 2008 | JAPAN


Government faces global isolation over death penalty

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Mainichi Japan

Japan faces global isolation over death penalty

GENEVA -- Two death row inmates were hanged in Japan on Oct. 28 in the fifth round of executions this year, just as a U.N. panel in Geneva was working out recommendations that Japan abolish the death penalty.

The fact that the Justice Ministry went ahead with the executions even though Tokyo had been informed of the U.N. panel's schedule to complete the recommendations on that day, highlights Japan's stubborn position that the death penalty is a domestic issue and no consideration needs to be given to international trends.

The U.N.'s recommendations were officially unveiled on Oct. 30.

Amnesty International Japan said more than 130 countries and territories have abolished the death penalty or suspended executions.

Among Group of Eight countries, only Japan and the United States maintain capital punishment. In the United States, some states have done away with the death penalty.

Britain abolished capital punishment in the 1960s while France, Germany, Italy, Russia and Canada either did away with the death penalty or suspended executions in the 1980s and 1990s.

Against the backdrop of international trends, Japan has come under mounting criticism for maintaining the ultimate penalty.

When the United Nations raises Japan's human rights issues, the focal point is always on its death penalty system.

U.N. officials criticize Japan for citing the public's support for the death penalty as the reason for maintaining capital punishment. They point out that a majority of French people were in favor of maintaining the death penalty when the country abolished the system in 1981.

Japan came under pressure to abolish capital punishment or suspend executions of death row inmates from numerous member countries when the U.N. Human Rights Council deliberated on Japan's position in May this year.

At the time, a Japanese representative told the meeting that informing death row inmates well in advance of the schedule of their executions as recommended would be cruel to them because they could be tormented for a long time, inviting mock laughter from those attending the council.

The recommendations are not legally binding. A diplomatic source suggested that what the U.N. can do has its limits, saying that if inward-looking Japanese officials are influenced by international trends through U.N. deliberations, it would be a major achievement. (By Katsumi Sawada, Geneva Bureau, Mainichi Shimbun)

 November 19, 2008

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