Death penalty foes gather in Tokyo to push for abolition
While the global trend is toward abolishing or putting a moratorium on capital punishment, Japan remains a stalwart practitioner, leaving it and the United States the only two countries in the Group of Seven major industrialized nations where executions still take place.
With international pressure growing against Japan to scrap the system, abolitionists, scholars, lawmakers and law enforcement officers from Japan, Norway and the U.S. recently gathered in Tokyo to spread their message that capital punishment neither prevents crime nor comforts the victimized.
Executions instead violate the most basic of human rights, as the death penalty is fundamentally murder by the state that removes any chance for exoneration, the abolitionists said.
At the international symposium June 1 organized by Aoyama Gakuin University, the panelists, including ex-justice ministers from Japan and Norway, reviewed and compared the judicial and social responses to violent crimes in their countries…
Former Japanese justice ministers who participated in the discussion expressed concern how the society has yet to engage in serious debate on the matter.
“Capital punishment contradicts the notion by the government that citizens must not kill anybody,” said lawyer Seiken Sugiura, a former Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker who did not sign off on any executions during his time as justice minister in the Junichiro Koizumi administration, saying it went against his religious beliefs.
“But I am worried that Japan is going to be the last country to abolish it,” said Sugiura, who came under fire by critics who said he should not have accepted the Cabinet position if he didn’t intend to fulfill his responsibility of signing death warrants.
Some panelists pointed out that part of the reason behind the lack of discussion in Japan is a lack of information and understanding about capital punishment itself. The government is notorious for withholding information on executions as officials believe too much disclosure would lead to more scrutiny of the system, and therefore more criticism and less public support to keep it going, they said.
“We need an extensive debate on this issue, but there is little information available,” said Hideo Hiraoka, a Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker who served as justice minister under Yoshihiko Noda and also did not send death-row inmates to the gallows.