Japan’s bar federation targets abolishing death penalty for 1st time
The Japan Federation of Bar Associations will propose for the first time to its members next month that they work for the abolition of capital punishment so that even the worst offenders can be rehabilitated.
The proposal comes at a time when more than two-thirds of nations have abolished the death penalty by law or in practice.
It also reflects concerns over miscarriage of justice, given that four death row inmates were exonerated in the 1980s through retrials and another death row inmate was freed in 2014 following 48 years behind bars after a court reopened his case. The decision has been appealed by prosecutors.
“If an innocent person or an offender who does not deserve to be sentenced to death is executed it is an irrevocable human rights violation,” said Yuji Ogawara, a Tokyo-based lawyer who serves as secretary general of a JFBA panel on the death penalty.
The proposal will be submitted to the federation’s annual human rights meeting on Oct 7 in Fukui for formal adoption as a JFBA declaration.
The federation is targeting abolition of the death penalty by 2020, when the U.N. Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice will be held in Japan.
In its 2011 declaration, the federation urged the government to immediately start public debate on the death penalty, but stopped short of clearly calling for its abolition.
Since then, the federation has carried out more in-depth discussions on the issue by organizing symposiums, exchanging views with lawmakers, Justice Ministry officials, journalists and diplomats as well as those in religious circles.
It has also sent delegations overseas to research penal systems in countries including Britain, South Korea, Spain and the United States.
“There are still lawyers who support the death penalty, but I think we have developed an environment that enables us to seek its abolition,” said Ogawara, who was involved in drafting the proposal.
As an alternative to the death penalty, the federation proposes whole life sentences without parole should be considered as one option.
But even if whole life sentences without parole are given, there should be scope for subsequently reviewing the sentence if an offender has truly been rehabilitated, as it would be inhumane to allow no possibility of such inmates ever being released, it says.
Those who commit crimes, in many cases, are the socially disadvantaged who could be rehabilitated with appropriate approaches, Ogawara said. “The penal system should contribute to promoting social reintegration of offenders, rather than satisfying the desire for retribution.”
It is also important to enhance assistance measures for crime victims and their bereaved families, the JFBA says in the proposal, stressing the need to provide continued support to them “as the primary responsibility of society as a whole.”
Japan was urged by the U.N. Human Rights Committee in 2014 to “give due consideration to the abolition of the death penalty,” but has legitimized its continuance by citing the outcome of a survey that indicated more than 80 percent of people in Japan support the death penalty.
Critics maintain that the respondents were not provided with sufficient information on the execution system.
The secrecy surrounding executions in Japan has been criticized at home and abroad, with neither death row inmates nor their lawyers and families given advance notice of hangings. It also remains unclear what criteria authorities use in deciding when inmates are to be executed.
Japan hanged two death row inmates in March, bringing to 16 the total number of people executed since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came to power in December 2012. – Japan Today, 24/9/2016