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March 3 2010 | SOUTH KOREA

South Korea

Church regrets court backing death penalty

printable version

Union of Catholic Asian News

KOREA - Church regrets court backing death penalty

The Constitutional Court today [Feb. 25] ruled that the death penalty is constitutional, dashing Church hopes of an early repeal of the law in South Korea.

“The court’s decision is behind the times and world trends,” John Kim Hyoung-tae, a lawyer and chairperson of the executive committee of the bishops’ Committee for the Abolition of Capital Punishment, said.

“Currently, 139 countries abolished the punishment in law or in practice and more countries are joining.

“The death penalty is the fundamental infringement of life and I don’t understand how the justices ruled so,” he said.

Abolitionists are urging the National Assembly to abolish the penalty in the wake of the court judgment.

Five of the nine Constitutional Court justices upheld the death penalty while the other four said that it is unconstitutional. Six votes are needed to rule a law unconstitutional.

“The death penalty is one of the punishments expected in the Criminal Law,” the majority judgment said.

“In the limitation of the right of life, it cannot be seen as a deviation from the boundary of the Constitution and does not violate the Constitution that regulates the value and dignity of human beings.”

The first Constitutional Court ruling on the matter was in 1996, when the death penalty was given the green light by seven votes to two.

‘An anachronistic awareness of human rights’

Huh Il-tae, co-chairperson of the Council for the Abolition of the Death Penalty, said he was disappointed by the latest setback.

“I even feel anger. The Constitution regulates against an assault on the dignity of life. They have decided using an anachronistic awareness of human rights.”

Bishop Boniface Choi Ki-san, president of the Korean bishops’Committee for Justice and Peace, told UCA News that he hoped the government would not use the decision to resume executions.

There has not been one in the country for more than 12 years.

“Currently, South Korea is categorized as an abolitionist country in practice,” the bishop said. “The government should not resume the execution with the court’s ruling.”

Countries that have the death penalty on the statute books but have not used it for more than a decade are listed as “abolitionist in practice” by international human rights group Amnesty International.

“As the Constitutional Court missed its chance to abolish the penalty, now we should aim for the National Assembly to do it and we will keep fighting for it,” Bishop Choi said.

In the current National Assembly, 53 lawmakers submitted a bill for the abolition of the death penalty and its replacement with life imprisonment without parole.

St. Paul of Chartres Sister Jean Marc Cho Sung-ai, well-known as “Godmother” to death row inmates, told UCA News that these inmates need to be given time to repent.

“They don’t say that they want to live, but I can feel it. Although they committed brutal crimes, they are all human beings and have a right to life.”

According to the Ministry of Justice, there are 59 death row inmates awaiting execution.

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