Friday, 12 October 2007

South Korea: Renewed calls for abolition

Human rights groups, religious communities and the country's former president have called for South Korea to abolish the death penalty, backed by a newspaper urging the country's parliament to remove it "once and for all".

The Hankyoreh reported about 300 human rights activists and religious leaders took part in a ceremony in favour of abolishing the death penalty, held at Seoul's Korea Press Center on 10 October, the World Day Against the Death Penalty.

Former president Kim Dae-Jung and 2000 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate joined the call for abolition.

"The dignity of life is a natural right that nobody can infringe and demolish," he said.

No-one has been executed in South Korea since Kim was elected president in February 1998, although people continued to be sentenced to death.

The Korea Times reported in September that twenty organisations, including Amnesty International and Lawyers for a Democratic Society, were campaigning for the government to support a resolution for a moratorium on executions set to be debated at the 62nd session of the United Nations General Assembly.

"The adoption of such a resolution by the U.N.'s principal organ would be an important milestone toward the abolition of the death penalty," the Association for the Abolishment of the Death Penalty said.

The Association said it was holding a 100-day campaign to encourage the government to support the resolution.

Time to 'finish the job'
South Korean newspaper The Hankyoreh said in an editorial that although there were now 64 people on death row, the executive government had been "right" to not approve the sentences being carried out.

The newspaper said the previous two governments had "tried in their own ways to have it abolished" and the current government seemed unlikely to carry out any executions.

But it said half the members in the last National Assembly signed an abolition bill that was never dealt with and 175 legislators in the current assembly have proposed a similar bill.

"It is time the National Assembly finish[ed] the job by legislating it out of existence," The Hankyoreh said.

It said justice systems were imperfect and the death penalty was in irreversible punishment, once carried out.

"Ultimately the decisions of the judicial system are made by people, and decisions by human beings can never be perfect.

"If someone is executed for having been found guilty and sentenced to die, there is no way to reverse that decision once the action has been carried out."

The newspaper also said some people think the death penalty is a necessary response for "perpetrators of particularly heinous crimes".

"However, if you look at studies of societies where it has been abolished, capital punishment does not especially have the effect of preventing heinous criminal acts.

"You question whether taking someone’s life because that person is a criminal is something that can be justified.

"It is for reasons such as these that some 90 countries have already completely done away with it, and close to 60 have more have moratoriums of one sort or another."

Kim's call
In February 2006 Kim, himself a former death row inmate, issued a statement arguing for the abolition of the death penalty.

"Capital punishment goes against the foundation of democracy," he wrote.

"Democracy regards the life of a human being to be the most cherished in the world, and to end a person's life even in the name of law clearly runs counter to the basic principle of human rights."

His said justice systems were prone to error, the death penalty was abused by dictatorships and it did not lead to a reduction in crime.

Kim was sentenced to death on sedition charges in 1980 by South Korea's ruling military government.

His death sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment and he was allowed to leave the country.

Related stories:
South Korea: death penalty not on 'roadmap' -- 19 February, 2007
Call for South Korea to show 'leadership' -- 27 June , 2006
South Korea death penalty hearing -- 10 April, 2006
South Korea: Kim Dae-jung's call for abolition -- 06 March, 2006
South Korea – former president calls for abolition -- 27 February, 2006
Positive signs in the Philippines and South Korea -- 22 February, 2006

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