Wednesday, 22 February 2006

Positive signs in the Philippines and South Korea

Two countries in Asia may be closer to abolishing the death penalty, following significant announcements by the President of the Philippines and a key government ministry in South Korea.

Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has told the Foreign Correspondents Association "I am all in favor of repealing the death penalty and when it comes to the committee level [in Congress], I will certify it.” She said she wanted the death penalty abolished because of her Catholic beliefs.

In the past President Arroyo has given mixed signals on the death penalty, lifting a moratorium on the death penalty and supporting the execution of convicted kidnappers.

But last week the President ordered the commutation of 280 death sentences on humanitarian grounds. During a visit to the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City, she ordered the Department of Justice to identify the 280 longest-serving inmates on death row. There were reportedly 1,280 men detained on death row.

Catholic Bishops, parliamentarians, legal organisations and human rights groups have made growing calls for the death penalty to be revoked.

In South Korea, the Ministry of Justice has announced that it is reviewing the death penalty and considering replacing executions with life imprisonment.

A ministry official told The Korea Times: “We will thoroughly examine the possibility of abolishing the death penalty as part of efforts to set up a human rights-oriented penal system.”

The review will look at whether the death penalty is effective in deterring crime, the situation in abolitionist countries and the possible alternative of life imprisonment without parole.

The review is an important step for a ministry with a record of opposing moves in the National Assembly to abolish the death penalty.

In June 2005, the Ministry of Justice wrote to the National Assembly opposing the abolition of the death penalty. The JoongAng Daily reported that the letter, sent to the Assembly’s Judiciary and Legislative Committee, cited public opinion in favour of the death penalty and claimed that execution was more humane than life imprisonment without parole.

In 2005, South Korea’s National Human Rights Commission recommended the death penalty be abolished.

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