Saturday, 17 October 2009

Mongolia: Death row inmate pardoned

On 30 July 2009 Amnesty International (AI) issued an urgent appeal on behalf of Mongolian man facing execution for murder. It is extremely rare for details of capital cases in Mongolia to be made public, which greatly limits the ability of independent media to report on the death penalty in that country and of human rights activists to place pressure on the government.

Information about the death penalty in Mongolia is considered a state secret, even to the extent that the government does not confirm how executions are carried out.

On 14 October, AI issued the following update.

Urgent Action
Mongolian death row inmate pardoned

Buuveibaatar, a 33-year old Mongolian man sentenced to death for murder, has been granted a pardon by the Mongolian President.

Buuveibaatar was sentenced to death for the murder of his former girlfriend’s new boyfriend in January 2008. He had exhausted all his appeals. His father wrote to Amnesty International, thanking everyone for their support.

No further action is requested from the Urgent Action network. Many thanks to all who sent appeals.

This is the first update of UA 206/09 (ASA 30/002/2009).
Issue Date: 14 October 2009

Related story:
Mongolia: Appeal for death row pardon -- 3 August 2009

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Amnesty damns Japan's death row as cruel, inhuman

From ABC Radio Australia
11 September 2009

The use of the death penalty is on the decline globally. Japan is one of the few industrialised countries to continue to use it, hanging a smalll number of prisoners each year. Amnesty International says the conditions for those on Japan's death row to be curel, inhuman and degrading.

Listen to the interview here.

Presenter: Stephanie Foxley
Speaker: James Welsh, Amnesty International's health expert

WELSH: Yes, this report deals with mental health aspects of death penalty in Japan. We have have had long standing concerns about the death penalty itself in Japan but of growing concern are reports that mentally ill prisoners are being sentenced to death and are being executed. what we've found in trying to investigate the problem was firstly that there are major obstacles to anyone finding out information about the situation of prisoners on death row in Japan it's a very secret and secretive system and this has been found not just by us but by lawyers in Japan and also UN bodies trying to assess the situation. What we found was that prisoners on death row are kept in very harsh conditions, they are isolated, the are prevented from talking to staff or other prisoners and this level of pressure, together with the knowledge that they are going to be executed has a major impact on their mental health. Added to that there's a fact that prisoners are not given a date of their execution, which means every day the potentially face the fact that this could be their last day and this ratchets up the level of pressure on the prisoners. The families of course, are likewise not given notice of the execution of their family member. So all in all it's secretive, it's harsh and it's likely to give rise to high levels of mental stress.

FOXLEY: How many prisoners are we talking about?

WELSH: At the moment there are 102 prisoners on death row in Japan. There are other prisoners who's trials are ongoing, so some of those will certainly join their fellow prisoners on death row. Then others may face execution or may die of natural causes.

FOXLEY: What's the percentage of those that have been diagnosed as mentally ill?

WELSH: Well, that's an extremely relevant question and one that's very hard to answer precisely because of the level of secrecy that applies. We site 5 cases in our report, two of which we give in considerable detail drawing on court documents on medical assessments made for the court. But the answer is, we just don't know, we suspect that there are high levels of mental health problems ranging from mild to very serious, but we just don't know.

FOXLEY: Are there not international standards that are supposed to be followed with regard to the welfare of prisoners, even those on death row?

WELSH: Yes, all prisoners should be protected by basic standards. The Human Rights Committee for the UN has made precisely this point to the Japanese authorities on many many occasions, particularly expressing grave concern about the lack of notice of execution and the impact that could have on prisoners. but up to this point that has been no satisfactory response from the authorities. Now, there was an election in Japan very recently, and a new government will come to power next week, they have committed themselves to a public dialogue on the death penalty, so we see this as quite a hopeful point of entry for our report and for a wider discussion on the death penalty itself in Japan.

FOXLEY: Have you had any confirmation that there will be a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty permanently?

WELSH: There has been no such commitment given, we would be very keen to see such a moratorium take place to allow for a proper debate. We will be making this point to the new government and we will have to see how they respond.

FOXLEY: If the death penalty is not abolished, is there likely to be any abuse of claiming mental illness to avoid the death penalty, is this perhaps one of Japans worries?

WELSH: I don't know if it's a worry. It's a point that can be raised or discussed, in some of the cases we are talking about, the evidence is quite striking. We don't have any concerns that there could be fraud or faked mental illnesses, it's not an easy thing to fake effectively, particularly given the nature of some of the prisoners, they are not medical students, they haven't read up on mental health issues. So, it's a point that can be raised but it's a trivial point and I expect the debate to come down to that level.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Japan's justice minister comments on the death penalty

Justice Minister hopes for greater transparency on death penalty
From The Mainichi Daily News
30 September 2009

Following her appointment as Justice Minister, Keiko Chiba has faced major issues such as the legislation of police investigation videotaping and how to address Japan's death penalty. In an interview with the Mainichi the minister provides her thoughts on these topics.

Mainichi: How will you proceed with legislation of video and sound recordings of all stages of the investigation process, as the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) proposed in its election manifesto?

Chiba: We want to stay committed to realizing this steadily. We have put together the framework within the party, and we want to hold open debate on how we will carry the measures out, receiving opinions from many people. On bills presented by lawmakers, we want to narrow down how much we will include, whether it be everything from the outset, or whether we take things one step at a time.

Mainichi: You are a member of the league of Diet members promoting abolition of the death penalty. Do you plan to sign any execution orders as Justice Minister?

Chiba: I am aware that there are regulations and the Justice Minister is entrusted with duties. Now that I have become a member of the government, I will place myself at a certain distance from the league and step down as a member. However, there are various debates about the issue, and in the end, it's a penalty that takes people's lives away from them, so I want to handle the issue cautiously. The citizen judge system has started, and it is possible for the public to select the death penalty. Considering that, I hope that people will focus on the issue and think about it, and that we can create some kind of forum for debate. I hope we can open things up little by little in some form or other, including by making information public and bringing execution venues into public view. I am aware that it is hard for debate to proceed without the public knowing any of the reality.

Mainichi: Diet members have proposed legislation to revise the Civil Code with the introduction of a system of optional separate family names for husbands and wives. How will the DPJ compile opinions on this as the ruling party?

Chiba: It's a fact that there are varying opinions within the party, but up until now the DPJ has been involved in such policymaking, so we will proceed on that footing. I feel it a little strange that the Justice Ministry Legislative Council gave a response (in favor of a legal revision in 1996) but nothing has materialized over this period. We want to quickly settle on a definite plan, and look toward making a proposal at a regular Diet session next year.

(Mainichi Japan) September 30, 2009

Japan: Will new minister cut hangings?

New DPJ Cabinet might slow down executions
Kyodo News

From The Japan Times online
24 September 2009

With the inauguration of the new government led by the Democratic Party of Japan, there could be a lull in executions of death-row inmates, at least for the time being. Recent years have seen accelerated hangings under Liberal Democratic Party-led governments.

Political commentators have taken particular notice of the appointment of Upper House member Keiko Chiba as justice minister. She opposes capital punishment and belongs to the nonpartisan Parliamentary League for the Abolition of the Death Penalty. The justice minister has the final say in authorizing executions.

Any move toward carrying out executions could also trigger resistance from other members of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's Cabinet. Shizuka Kamei, leader of the People's New Party, leads the anti-death penalty league, and Mizuho Fukushima, leader of the Social Democratic Party, also is staunchly opposed to capital punishment.

After the Cabinet was seated on Wednesday, Chiba said at her inaugural news conference that it is her "personal feeling that it would be good" if there were moves toward a moratorium on executions or abolition of the death penalty.

But she added: "The fact remains that the justice minister is tasked with professional duties under the law. I am fully aware (that a justice minister) is obliged institutionally to deal with executions."

Said Toyo Atsumi, a professor of criminal procedure at Kyoto Sangyo University's law school, "If (a minister) avoids executions when the institution of execution exists, there will be no rule of law. I am sure Justice Minister Chiba is fully aware of that and if executions are to be done away with, it must be after (relevant) revisions to the law have been made."

Nobuto Hosaka, secretary general of the death penalty opponents' parliamentary league, is hopeful about the new justice minister. "I would think she will probably institute a moratorium. No doubt a brake will be put on executions," he said.

The ministry itself was noncommittal. "For the time being, various matters will come under review and a judgment will probably be made after fully considering the circumstances," a spokesman said.
The Code of Criminal Procedure provides that the justice minister order an execution within six months after a death sentence is finalized. Not all ministers, however, have signed execution orders.

Japan saw a lull in executions for three years and four months starting in November 1989. That period included Megumu Sato's term as justice minister from 1990 to 1991. A Buddhist monk, Sato refused to sign execution orders, citing his faith.

Masaharu Gotoda restarted executions in March 1993. Since then almost all justice ministers, except for those serving brief stints, have ordered executions. A notable exception was Seiken Sugiura, who assumed the justice minister's post in October 2005.

At his inaugural press conference, Sugiura openly said he would not sign an execution order on religious and philosophical grounds but retracted the statement one hour later. During his nearly one-year tenure, however, he never signed an execution order.

Since then, the number of people on death row has grown to around 100, and executions also have risen.

Among recent justice ministers, Kunio Hatoyama signed orders for 13 executions, while his predecessor, Jinen Nagano, signed 10.