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November 12 2012 | JAPAN

Address by Mario Marazziti, THE DEATH PENALTY: JAPAN AND THE WORLD, Tokyo, October 29th, 2012

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Address by Mario Marazziti,  


Tokyo, October 29th, 2012

[email protected]

• Japan is a kind country. It is warm and welcoming. Japan is a powerful country with a rich history and the ability to reinvent itself to face modern challenges. It is a country with its own national identity. Japan has always known how to look to the rest of the world and embrace what could be good for its people.
• Why are we here? Because we love Japan. And we need more of Japan in our globalized world. Japan should not be confined to the world of liberal democracies. Japan's numerous exports include a profound sense of beauty and harmony, a sense of the importance of community and the common good which can help the fragmented world of the west, a place where – in this era of global economic uncertainty – the temptation of individualism thrives.
• This is a country with an elevated sense of justice. Yet the world is truly realizing that "There is no justice without life." This is why here, in Tokyo, we must reflect on how we can begin a process to bring the death penalty to an end, turning it into a relic of the past.
• Though we were born in Europe, the Community of Sant'Egidio loves this country, loves Asia. And today there are branches of the Community of Sant'Egidio in more than 70 countries across the globe. We seek a way to rebuild our ability to live together in a time of broken societies. This is reflected in our work on War – in how we worked to put an end to the civil war which brought about a million deaths in Mozambique twenty years ago and to help reunify the Ivory Coast, which was divided by 5 years of civil war, a few years ago. It can also be seen in our recent efforts to broker preemptive peace treaties in order to prevent the new civil wars which were stirring in Niger and Guinea at the time of the transition from dictatorships to the beginning of democracy. The Community of Sant'Egidio is committed to dialogue between religions and cultures all across the planet. This is why we have struck up a friendship with your ancient culture – to work together for the good of humanity. Today it is our duty to join you in this important journey to end the death penalty, to offer our friendship and knowledge of world affairs in order to reduce the distance between Japan and the rest of the planet, which is changing quickly on this issue.
• It is said that when a person commits a heinous crime, he separates himself from the community, making the death penalty necessary. The death penalty is seen as simple confirmation of the fact that this human being soiled his hands by committing a crime that placed him outside the human community. This is what great swathes of the world have thought for centuries, for millenia. In the Western world, this was the theory of amputation: cut off a limb to prevent a lethal illness from spreading to the rest of the body. Yet no human being ever ceases to be a human being. Even the most violent people. Even those who seem like animals. And you can never give life back to one victim by ending the life of another. You can never remove a family's profound pain by ending another human life and creating a new victim. Curtis McCarthy, Sakae Menda and Kate Lowenstein will speak better than I can about this.
• The death penalty has always existed. This seems not to be seen as a problem in Japanese public opinion. And since practically the beginning of humanity, it has also not been seen as a problem in the world. Except for a few exceptions, the death penalty has been part of every civilization, including the Western world. Slavery and torture were also considered normal for centuries, for millennia. They were believed to be natural parts of society, a part of economic development, the spoils of the victors.
• But today slavery and torture are seen as illegal. It seemed impossible for a society to thrive economically without slavery. Today we know that was false. The death penalty seems like the natural response to extreme violence in society and a duty of the state – namely, to eliminate the criminal on behalf of the community. But this too is false. We have reached an era when the death penalty has become an old television set in a museum, languishing in the age of smartphones, iPhones and Android.
• First of all, why? Because when the state kills in the name of the community, the entire community is brought down to the level of the killer. Because when the state kills – years later – in cold blood, it is taking an action more heinous than that of the person who committed a crime in the grip of mental problems, drugs (the majority of death penalty crimes are closely related to drug use), momentary anger, or fear mixed with violence and a violent education. The state's action is even more egregious, since it adds a layer of calculation and science into the mix. And this makes a difference. This is the difference between a normal prison and a death camp, a place where every action is calculated to destroy. When the state kills, a disproportionate degree of force is applied to the person who has by then been detained and can no longer harm the community. And this makes their death a murder rather than an execution, vengeance rather than justice.
• What it doesn't do is make society safer. The death penalty disproportionately blames minorities and the weakest strata of society, groups that are not guaranteed a thorough defense. And there is not a single case in the world where a connection can be found between the death penalty and a decrease in serious crimes.
• The Western world speaks of retributive justice: you are savagely served up the same blow you dealt, regardless of whether it has any practical effect. But in practice, retributive justice is enforced unevenly. Because luckily, there are many more cases of homicide than cases of the death penalty. This reveals something embarrassing and hypocritical about society: it promises equal justice for all, but if the death penalty were truly necessary to right the wrong caused by a homicide, thousands would never receive justice. Luckily, this isn't the case.
• We must never stoop to the same level as murderers. There is only one possible way for an advanced society to respond to violence. The only therapy is life – a higher, more generous sense of life.
• I speak as someone who has sat down at the negotiating table, engaging in dialogue until we brought an end to civil wars and genocide. I was part of the negotiations to end the War in Burundi, a genocide between the Hutu and Tutsi ethic groups which took place for numerous reasons, with social causes trumping ethnic ones. This was a genuine genocide, like in Rwanda and in Cambodia, and you know it well. In Burundi, Rwanda and Cambodia, like the post-apartheid South Africa of Nelson Mandela, you cannot reconcile a nation without renouncing the death penalty. Doing so is the cure for those who seek revenge and compensation for the wrongs that have been inflicted, feelings that plant the seeds for new violence and new Wars.
• After two world wars, Europe has reimagined itself as a single unit and has written the repudiation of the death penalty into its constitutional DNA, precisely because it has seen too many deaths within its boundaries. Europe has chosen to share its experience with the world and plays an active role in international efforts against the death penalty. But this shouldn't be seen as a kind of neocolonialism of human rights. Rather, it is the choice to share "the best you have to offer" with others. And it was reflected by Europe's Nobel Peace Prize this year and can be seen in this very international symposium, which was organized with the support of the European Commission.
• Here in Tokyo, it is especially important to point out that the death penalty is not part of Japan's identity. During the Middle Ages of Europe, the death penalty was a normal part of European life. Yet here in Japan, Emperor Saga abolished the death penalty in 818. This prohibition lasted for three centuries, until 1156. The first state in the Western world to abolish the death penalty was Italy's Grand Duchy of Tuscany, in 1786. Every year on November 30th, the Community of Sant'Egidio celebrates this city of life, the city that opposes the death penalty. This year, 1500 cities will join in celebrating this anniversary across the globe. The death penalty is not Japan. A better and stronger Japan – a place with more meaningful justice, a place unmarred by the death penalty – can grow, even in Japan.
• The world is changing very quickly. In the '70s, only twenty-three countries had abolished the death penalty. Now the number of countries which have moved beyond it, either because it has been abolished by law or ended de facto, is up to 141. Just a year ago, a country here in Asia – Mongolia – abolished the death penalty. The President of Mongolia thanked the Community of Sant'Egidio for our help with this process. For millennia, the death penalty has been popular in the entire world, yet in the last 50 years things have changed dramatically. In 1960, nearly 180 countries used the death penalty. Today this is down to 46. The number of countries with the death penalty halved in the last decade. History is speeding up. In 2011, executions were carried out in 21 countries, including Japan. And in 2007, the United Nations adopted a Resolution for a Worldwide Moratorium on the death penalty. This year it will again be presented. There were 108 votes in favor, and a little less than 40 abstentions. Japan could abstain during the next vote in November and December. It would be a way of reducing the distance between you and the rest of the world. In the United States, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, Illinois and Connecticut have abolished the death penalty since 2007. During the same period, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan ended capital punishment. And Gabon, Togo and Benin did so in Africa. Japan could be a leader in this effort in Asia.
• We know this is a sensitive issue. Nevertheless, some things could be done immediately. On September 27, 2012, Japan executed two prisoners, one of whom was a woman. These were the sixth and seventh executions this year. 131 prisoners remain on death row.
• Japan is reviewing its triennial legislation on lay judges. And a Supreme Court study of the 20,817 lay judges who participated in 14 types of cases found that lay judges are more likely to impose stricter sentences. Limiting their purview to non-capital punishment trials could help.
• Various surveys have revealed doubts about the infallibility of the Japanese judicial system. The death penalty makes every error irrevocable, and we should never take away something that cannot be given back in case of error.
• The modernization of execution methods has led to the possibility that Japan might opt for lethal injection instead of hanging. But in the United States, lethal injection has been strongly criticized as an inhuman, degrading, and unusually cruel method, a system that uses drugs designed for animals and requires doctors to participate in the process.
• In Japan, it is still possible to execute criminals without granting them an appeal. As of June 6, 2012, verification for death penalty cases is not required. This increases the possibility of judicial error, especially in cases of forced confessions, which history has demonstrated are possible.
• Stays of execution are at the discretion of judges. Condemned prisoners are not given notice of their date of execution. The international community views this as possible mental torture, since every day sentenced individuals must not only prepare for "peace" but also anticipate the terror of execution. Every time a letter or food is brought to the prisoners, the door could be opening to carry them off to their deaths.
• Families of the condemned are only notified after the execution. And you should know that this engenders a lot of bias against Japan, against your humanity, your modernity.
• Solitary confinement, a regular practice for prisoners on death row, has serious psychological consequences, and ordinary prisoners sentenced to die and subjected to solitary confinement can lack the attention and monitoring they have the right to for periods that can last for several years.
• The "Peace of Mind" system contains limitations and restrictions in order to quickly destroy personal dignity, such as making preparations to be executed. But there are no practices in place to check on a prisoner's mental health and limited assessments of the mental abilities of the individuals charged with murder, even during the trial.
• Therefore, we recommend:
• 1) transparency during all phases of the legal process and monitoring and recording of the entire process, including interrogations;
• 2) staying executions when there are active repeals or requests for review and ending the regular practice of solitary confinement;
• 4) allowing members of Parliament, NGOs and the media to access death row in order to increase transparency and monitoring;
• 5) imposing a moratorium on executions and forming an independent, qualified Commission to review and study the death penalty in Japan, collecting adequate infromation from the general public about their opinions; and
• 6) abstaining on the Resolution for a Worldwide Moratorium in the General Assembly of the United Nations. This vote would be based on a pause for reflection that Japan needs in order to reconsider this sensitive issue, an issue on which worldwide thinking has changed so dramatically.

• These are the first steps needed to reduce the distance between Japan and the rest of the world. This change is possible. And it will do honor to this great country which we love so deeply.

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