10 October 2010
Asia and the Pacific
Progress to limit the Death Penalty but ongoing challenges
“In Mongolia, we welcome our President’s decision to declare a moratorium and the approval of the Second Optional Protocol as a basic requirement in safeguarding the value of human life.” ADPAN member, AI Mongolia
The World Day against the Death Penalty was first launched in 2003 by the World Coalition against the Death Penalty. This year it focuses on the achievements of the last decade and the challenges.
ADPAN aims to consolidate activities and encourage awareness of the growing movement supporting the abolition of the death penalty across the region. Events are organized on or around this World Day by ADPAN members from the region including in Australia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand.
The regional and global trend towards the abolition of the death penalty has been accelerated over the past ten years. Executions have come down,[i] governments are imposing more stringent safeguards to limit the scope of the death penalty and more open debate on the death penalty is taking place.
Over the past 10 years, four Asia-Pacific countries abolished the death penalty for all crimes; Bhutan and Samoa in 2004, the Philippines in 2006 and the Cook Islands in 2007. Many retentionist countries have had periods of no executions, including countries such as India, Indonesia and Pakistan. South Korea has had no executions since 1997 and is considered “abolitionist in practice”.
Seventeen countries in the Asia-Pacific region have abolished the death penalty for all crimes; Fiji has abolished it for ordinary crimes only, 10 are abolitionist in practice and 13 retain the death penalty.
In 2006, the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN) was launched on the World Day against the Death Penalty. Its membership has more than tripled since with members in 26 countries mainly from the Asia Pacific region.
Through the publication of its two “Unfair Trials” reports last year, ADPAN has raised awareness by showing how in law and practice the death penalty is being unfairly applied across the region, see adpan.net/unfair-trials-2/.
Lawyers, academics and civil society groups have met in several countries across the region to discuss the death penalty and coalitions against the death penalty built and strengthened.
“High profile death penalty cases are gradually informing the general public in Taiwan about the dangers of the death penalty” said Hsinyi Lin, ADPAN member and Director of the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty. “The legislature is currently discussing the option of reducing the number of death penalty provisions in its laws”.
In Taiwan – after 21 legal challenges against the death penalty – the ‘Hsichih Trio’ were again found not guilty by the High Court in August this year.
In 2010, the President of Mongolia declared a moratorium on executions and in March 2012 Mongolia acceded to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.
India has not executed anyone since 2004 and in June 2012, Indian PresidentPratibha Patil granted clemency to over 30 prisoners on death row.
After introducing the legislative changes to abolish the death penalty for minors and limit the time of pre-trial detention in its 2003 Criminal Code, Thailand withdrew its reservations to two Articles to the ICCPR in July 2012. In Pakistan, Minister for Law, Parliamentary Affairs and Prisons, in Sindh Province Ayaz Soomro announced there would be no executions in the province until March 2013.
Several governments from retentionist countries, including Indonesia and Malaysia, took action to protect their own nationals facing the death penalty in other countries. China and Taiwan reduced the number of crimes punishable by death. In 2007, China’s Supreme People’s Court reclaimed its authority to review all death sentences, which according to official sources has resulted in a reduction in the number of executions.
Thailand in its Human Rights Action Plan 2009-2013 declared its commitment to abolishing the death penalty. On 11 August 2012, a royal pardon was granted to condemned prisoners. This means that 58 prisoners whose legal process in the courts is complete and whose verdicts have been confirmed by the Supreme Court will now have their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment.
Mandatory death sentences are prohibited under international law. In May 2010, the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh declared the mandatory death penalty to be unconstitutional and in 2006 Taiwan abolished the mandatory death penalty. India also declared the mandatory death penalty unconstitutional under specific statues following decisions take by the High Court in Bombay in 2011 and by the Supreme Court in February 2012.
Recently the mandatory death penalty has been under review in two countries where it is applied for drug offences. Imposing the death penalty for drug offences breaches international legal rules that restrict the use of the death penalty to only “the most serious crimes”.
Singapore began its review of the mandatory death penalty in July 2011. According to Singapore’s deputy prime minister, all executions were deferred until the end of the review. When the review was completed in July 2012, the Government of Singapore announced that it would introduce legislation this year giving judges the discretion to award life sentences to drug couriers if they cooperate or have a mental disability.
Later that month, Malaysia’s Attorney General announced that his office was considering legislative reforms which allow discretionary sentencing of drug couriers. In October 2011, the Malaysian Bar called for the abolition of the death penalty as a violation to the right to life. The Bar also noted that the number of drug-related offences had increased since 1983, when they became subject to the mandatory death penalty.
In January 2011, Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice admitted the execution in 1997 of Chiang Kuo-Ching, a private in the Air Force, had been an error. The authorities acknowledged that Kuo-Ching’s “confession” had been a result of torture and that his conviction rushed through a military court.
Countries in the region followed the global trend by becoming a State Party to various international human rights instruments relevant to the death penalty or changing their vote to the United Nations resolutions calling for a global moratorium on the death penalty. The region as a whole voted against the first two resolutions in 2007 and 2008 but in the last resolution in 2010 there was a slight overall vote in favour.
In July this year, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said, “the taking of life is too absolute, too irreversible, for one human being to inflict on another, even when backed by legal process,” and called on Member States which use the death penalty to abolish this practice, stressing that the right to life lies at the heart of international human rights law.
ADPAN welcomes these positive steps but acknowledges that the end of the death penalty across the region is an ongoing challenge.
13 countries across the region still retain the death penalty. More people are executed in the Asia-Pacific region than in the rest of the world combined. Many countries do not publish statistics on the death penalty, some regard the death penalty as a state secret and publicopinion favouring the death penalty is an ongoing challenge in certain countries. The death penalty for drugs is widely applied in the region and thousands are sentenced to death and executed after unfair trials.
In 2010, Taiwan executed four people, ending its unofficial moratorium which had been in place since December 2005. Thailand resumed executions in 2009, despite declaring its commitment to the abolition of the death penalty in its Human Rights Action Plan 2009-2013. In 2011, Afghanistan resumed executions after two years with no executions and most recently, Japan resumed executions in 2012, after nearly two years of no executions. So far this year, Japan has executed seven prisoners and there are fears of more executions. Two were executed on 27 September 2012 including the first woman to be executed in 15 years. In India there are fears that executions may resume after a period of eight years with no executions.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
On this World Day against the Death Penalty, ADPAN joins others in appealing for an end to the death penalty, supports the UN General Assembly resolution calling for a moratorium on all executions and is appealing for those sentenced to death following unfair trials across Asia.
- Appeal on behalf of Zulfiqar Ali, (Indonesia);
- Continue to appeal on behalf Hakamada Iwao (Japan), Humphrey Jefferson (Indonesia), Yong Vui Kong (Singapore), Chiou Ho-shun (Taiwan), Devender Pal Singh (India), Reza Mohammed Shah Bin Ahmad Shah (Malaysia) and Aftab Bahadur (Pakistan), see http://www.adpan.net;
- Promote national legislation abolishing the death penalty;
- Increase ratifications to the 2nd Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty;
- Support international standards calling for abolition or restricted use of the death penalty;
- Support the adoption of the 2012 UN General Assembly Resolution calling for a global moratorium on executions.
To find out more about the World Day against the Death Penalty, see http://www.worldcoalition.org/worldday.html
[i] Accurate data collection in some countries, including China, is impossible due to the secrecy around the death penalty.