Friday, 6 June 2008

Abolition: Political parties fail in Taiwan

The Taipei Times newspaper has condemned both of the country's main political parties for failing to abolish the death penalty, and failing to inform public debate about whether it was appropriate or effective.

In a sharply critical editorial on 28 May, the newspaper said the death penalty was an example of governments' selective use of public opinion, which was "ignored or drawn upon" by policy makers to serve their own interests.

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) reduced the use of the death penalty over its eight years in office, but it "failed to carry out one of its professed goals" of abolishing it altogether.

The DPP had claimed it could not abolish the death penalty "because a majority of the public believed the death penalty to be an effective deterrent to violent crime".

The newspaper feared the current government of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) already appeared "set to follow suit".

The current Minister of Justice Wang Ching-feng (王清峰) said shortly after the government's inauguration that she would consider abolishing the death penalty.

But "[i]n the same breath, however, she warned that she had no clue how to go about achieving this goal, as it would run counter to public opinion".

Ineffective revenge
The Taipei Times said neither party had promoted the increasing number of countries that had abolished the death penalty, leaving Taiwan "among a shrinking minority".

Furthermore, studies had not found evidence the death penalty deterred violent crime, or that it increased after abolition.

"Capital punishment can therefore only serve two purposes: to assure the public that this "effective" deterrent exists (although it is not effective) and to fill a need for retribution proportional to the crime committed," the editorial said.

"But modern justice systems have long since abandoned the "eye for an eye" philosophy as inadequate, inappropriate and inhumane."

It said the country's experience with doubtful trials had shown any claim the courts were infallible "would be laughable".

"The government must therefore make it clear to the public: Even one innocent person executed is far too high a price for what essentially boils down to revenge."

'Stop the excuses'
The editorial writers said factors such as the global trend away from the death penalty, and reassurance of measures such as regulating parole for violent criminals, could help move public opinion.

They concluded: "It would seem, then, not so daunting a task after all to present an alternative to the death penalty that both the public and government find fair.

"It is time for Taiwan's leaders to stop serving up excuses and set the ball in motion."

(Thanks to Celia at China Activist Weekly for the tip.)

Related stories:
Life Watch to save Taiwan's innocent from death --12 February, 2008
Taiwan 'improving' but call for abolition -- 11 October, 2007
Torment on Taiwan's death row -- 15 May, 2007
Taiwan limits mandatory penalties -- 29 January, 2007
Abolition debate for Taiwan in 2007 -- 12 January, 2007
Taiwan: Death penalty benefit an 'illusion' -- 14 December, 2006
Taiwan working towards abolition? -- 21 February, 2006

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