Tuesday, 15 December 2009

South Korea: 'Disappointment' at lack of change

[Interview] "S. Korea slips in being first in Asia to abolish death penalty"
Amnesty International’s Go Euntae talks on not wanting a ‘Santa Claus’ Amnesty International

From The Hankyoreh, 10 October 2009

"There are two kinds of countries in this world. One is the kind that does not kill citizens regardless, and the other is the kind that will kill its citizens at any time according to the circumstances."

Go Euntae, a member of Amnesty International’s international executive committee, sat down with the Hankyoreh on Friday, on the eve of the World Day Against the Death Penalty, Oct. 10. Go said, "If a state has the right to take a citizens’ life, individuals will always be subordinated to the state." He added, "The death penalty is a yardstick that fundamentally determines the relationship between the state and the individual."

The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty has designated Oct. 10 as the World Day Against the Death Penalty and holds related events on that day throughout the world. In South Korea, a commemorative ceremony is being held at Indiespace, Joongang Cinema on Jeo-dong 1-ga Street in Seoul’s Jung-gu district.

Until recently, Go had served as director of Amnesty International’s Korea branch since 2006, and had also served from 2002 and 2004. In August, he was elected the first Korean member of the Amnesty International’s international executive committee. This came 12 years after the last figure from the Asia region had been elected to the committee in 1997. The committee consists of nine members who serve four-year terms, during which time they represent Amnesty International activities throughout the world and execute decisions. Go has mainly carried out his duties in South Korea, but he also visits the organization’s headquarters in London, Great Britain, for quarterly meetings.

In the interview, Go expressed his concern about the fact that discussion of applying the death penalty has been surfacing again recently despite South Korea being an "abolitionist country in practice." South Korea received this classification by Amnesty International in 2007, ten years after the last time the death penalty had been carried out, however, the Constitutional Court has still not made any decision on the constitutionality of the death penalty, nor has there been any legislative activity in the National Assembly to abolish it. Justice Minister Lee Kwi-nam said in his National Assembly confirmation hearing last month that he would "seriously examine whether or not to carry out the death penalty."

Regarding recent public opinion in some quarters calling for the execution of 57-year-old child rapist Cho Du-sun, Go said that the death penalty should not be viewed as a solution in this case. "Rather than a method in which the wrongdoer is separated from ‘us, the innocent ones’ and met with severe punishment, I think it more proper to question why a person like that was able to commit a crime like that in our society," he observed.

Go also communicated growing concerns among the international community. "In the international human rights community, there were high hopes that South Korea would be the first to abolish the death penalty in Asia, which is seen as a ‘hole in global human rights,’" he said. "However, recently, disappointment has been growing within the international community," he added. Some 1,838 executions were carried out in Asian countries including China and Japan in 2008, accounting for 76.9 percent of all executions worldwide.

When asked what role he hopes Amnesty International will play, Go said, "I do not want to make a ‘Santa Claus’ Amnesty International that remains off in the distance and then pops in once a year to give presents. I want to make the ‘guy next door’ Amnesty International."

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