Tuesday, 27 June 2006

Call for South Korea to show 'leadership'

Amnesty International (AI) has written an open letter to South Korea's Minister of Justice, Mr Chun Jung-bae, welcoming the current review of the death penalty and encouraging the country to consider its abolition.

The letter, from AI's Secretary-General Irene Khan, highlighted and addressed four "key arguments" for abolition:
  • Whether executions achieve justice for the victims of crimes and their relatives
  • The death penalty as a deterrent to crime, and the corresponding fear that abolition will lead to higher rates of criminality
  • The "ever present" risk of executing the innocent, and
  • Whether societies should show their "revulsion" for heinous crimes by executing the perpetrators.
The letter notes that "the question of the death penalty often prompts heated political and public debate".

"The death penalty is most commonly used in the belief that it acts as a deterrent to violent crime and governments therefore find it difficult to abandon a measure they believe protects their citizens," the organisation said.

"Scientific studies have, however, consistently failed to find convincing evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other punishments."

The open letter noted the Asian region was an exception to the global trend towards abolition and urged South Korea to provide leadership and a positive example on human rights.

"The region contains countries with high rates of executions and no apparent prospect of abolition. Nations such as Japan, China, Singapore and Indonesia appear to be staunch supporters of capital punishment," it said.

"Amnesty International believes that the abolition of the death penalty in South Korea would provide the region with much needed human rights leadership and be a valuable example of a nation progressing towards the full protection of human rights.

"Such a step would encourage further positive developments in the region such as the abolition of the death penalty in Cambodia, Nepal and Timor Leste, and the Philippines’ decision this month to abolish the death penalty after it was re-imposed in 1994."

The human rights organisation concluded: "Executions give society the illusion of control over the threat posed to public safety by serious crimes. In the immediate period around an execution there is a feeling that a blow has somehow been dealt against criminality. However, the reality is that capital punishment serves no useful purpose in the fight against crime."

Read the full text of the open letter here.

Saturday, 24 June 2006

Viet Nam: Take action against the death penalty

Amnesty International Australia has issued a letter-writing action encouraging people to write to the Vietnamese government outlining human rights concerns about its use of the death penalty.

According to Amnesty International, there has been a "dramatic increase in Viet Nam's use of the death penalty, especially for drug-related crimes". The organisation is particularly concerned about the application of the death penalty for economic crimes such as embezzling state property, as well as drug-related offences.

The action says that: "Concern about the use of the death penalty in Viet Nam is compounded by the routine unfairness of trials that do not conform to international standards."

However, there are "some positive signs that the death penalty is being discussed within the Vietnamese government," and AI Australia is asking people to write to the government to encourage this discussion.

"These debates are an opportunity to point out that the death penalty has not been shown to be a more effective deterrent to crime, and to encourage Viet Nam to abolish the death penalty," the action says.

Tuesday, 20 June 2006

China: Another province takes up the needle

A number of countries in Asia are turning to lethal injection in the hope that it will provide a more efficient, politically palatable and less traumatic method of killing prisoners.

Recent reports in Viet Nam indicated the Police Ministry was in favour of a move to lethal injection (see the ADP report here).

In China, Yunnan Province reportedly pioneered the use of lethal injection following the 1996 amendments to the Criminal Procedure Law, and other provinces have since followed suit. Amnesty International has cited official press reports that Yunnan bought 18 buses in March 2003 and converted them to operate as mobile execution chambers.

Now China's Eastern Zhejiang province has embraced the trend, with the announcement that all executions will be carried out by lethal injection from 1 September this year.

The Zhejiang Provincial Supreme Court announced the change on 1 June, according to a report by the China Daily newspaper.

Lethal injection will replace the province's current use of firing squads.

China Daily reports that Supreme Court director Ying Yong said: "Execution by lethal injection demonstrates tremendous progress in China's criminal judgment proceedings and due to our solid efforts, Zhejing Province is capable of carrying out a death penalty of this kind."

"We won't be merciful with those who deserve the death penalty, but to those who haven't committed a grave crime, we won't carry out such a penalty," he said.

Wednesday, 7 June 2006

Philippines abolishes death penalty

The Philippines Congress yesterday abolished the death penalty, repealing the 1993 legislation that reintroduced lethal injection.

More than 1,000 prisoners on death row will now be spared execution with their sentences commuted to life imprisonment without parole.

The Senate voted 16-0, with one abstention, to pass the abolition bills. Within hours the House of Representatives also passed the bills, which now go to the President for signature.

"Victory of life"
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo today celebrated the move as a "victory of life".

The President said in a statement posted on her website: "We celebrate the victory of life as I thank Congress for its immediate action in abolishing the death penalty law. But make no mistake about it, the abolition of the death penalty will be complemented by a stricter and sterner enforcement of the law in all fronts.

"This is not a victory for criminals as some would claim, but rather, clear proof that Filipinos respect and value the sanctity of human life and uphold the virtue and religious doctrines that are expected of us as a dominant Christian nation," she said.

She also said the government would improve the country's jail facilities to create an environment that is more conducive to prisoners' rehabilitation and reformation.

Last week, Mrs Arroyo wrote to Senate President Franklin Drilon calling for the urgent passage of the abolition bills before the adjournment of Congress this week.

In a letter sent to Senate President Franklin M. Drilon, the President pointed to the urgent need for "abolishing death penalty as its imposition was shown to have not served its principal purpose of effectively deterring the commission of heinous crimes".

She also said abolition would "remedy the findings that death penalty is anti-poor as the underprivileged who cannot afford the services of competent counsels are oftentimes the ones convicted of death penalty".

On 15 April, the President announced that the government would commute death sentences to life imprisonment. The following week she certified as urgent a bill abolishing the death penalty.

Supporting "retribution"
Philippines Protestant churches yesterday reaffirmed their support for the death penalty.

The Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) issued a 3-page statement supporting the death penalty as retribution for a "short list of capital crimes".

PCEC national director Evangelical Bishop Efraim Tendero said the death penalty was justified by the Bible.

"The massacre of civilians must be punishable by death. Capital crimes, or those that led to loss of other lives, deserve capital punishment. A man who takes away the life of another forfeits his own," the statement said.

The PCEC statement stands in stark contrast to the position of the Catholic Church in the Philippines, which has campaigned strongly in favour of abolition.