As Carole posted today, it has been 10 years since the signing of European Protocol 13, which abolished the death penalty. According to Amnesty International, more than two thirds of the countries in the whole world are either abolitionist or abolitionist in practice.
There is (I’d like to say) a trend in the United States towards abolition. So where is Japan at?
As I have posted here through Mark, Justice Minister Toshio Ogawa sent three people to gallows in March this year.
Just before he signed the order for the executions, he terminated Justice Ministry’s internal study panel on death penalty. In 2010, the then Justice Minister Keiko Chiba set up the panel to review whether to retain or abolish the death penalty and discuss about the conditions on death row. It aimed to get the debate going in the country, and was supported by Chiba’s successors.
However, Ogawa terminated the study panel and cancelled the plans to set up another discussion panel with experts on the matter. Ogawa said that he “thought the discussions were exhausted”, and that he “terminated the study panel because it would not have lead to a consensus”. He also said that he “would not consider a moratorium on executions just because there are different opinions”.
Now Ogawa has decided that although he would not continue the debate on whether to abolish the death penalty, he would discuss about the method of execution (Read more about this here). The Ministry’s top three officials will begin private discussion on the issue (the deliberations of which will not be made public).
The first meeting of the three was held on April 23. Because there is a strong opinion that the hanging method is too cruel, they discussed about the lethal injection method adopted by the United States, calling in a doctor who has had an experience on being present at the execution.
Yes, of course the current execution method in Japan is problematic: (1) the inmates are notified first of their executions in the morning, just an hour or so before their execution, (2) their relatives are not informed before hand, (3) their lawyers are not informed, (4) they are held in solitary confinement on death row until execution, prohibited to even communicate with other inmates, so on and so forth.
But the real focus should be on whether to execute at all, not whether to execute more “softly”.
So this is one more reason to criticize Ogawa’s decision to terminate the study panel and the discussion panel. If we want to call Japan a “democratic country”, there should be a more open debate on whether to retain or abolish the death penalty to begin with, disclosing more facts about the penalty and taking into account various factors including the international trend, the risk of wrongful executions, etc.