JAPAN: EX-JUSTICE MINISTER VOICES REGRET OVER RESUMPTION OF EXECUTIONS
|Japan's former Justice Minister Hideo Hiraoka
April 18, 2012: Former Justice Minister Hideo Hiraoka said it is regrettable that execution of the death penalty resumed in Japan in March without sufficient debate following a 20-month hiatus.
"I regret that executions took place last month without being examined or discussed...regarding the way in which the death penalty is enforced and death-row inmates are treated in Japan," Hiraoka, who served for four months until January, told a symposium hosted by the Delegation of the European Union to Japan and the EU Institute in Japan at Waseda University in Tokyo.
His comments came after Japan hanged three death row inmates on March 29 by order of his successor and current Justice Minister Toshio Ogawa in the first executions since July 2010, when then Justice Minister Keiko Chiba approved the hanging of two inmates.
Chiba, once considered an antideath penalty campaigner, attended the executions and later allowed media personnel to visit the execution chamber in a bid to stir public debate over the death penalty. A study panel on capital punishment was set up within the Justice Ministry eventually.
But Ogawa decided to discontinue the panel debates on March 9, 20 days before the resumption of execution, on the grounds that main arguments on the pros and cons of the death penalty had by and large been identified.
Given this, Hiraoka said, "I am very disappointed that the situation regarding the death penalty system has returned to how it had been before the study group was established." Hiraoka himself refrained from issuing execution orders during his tenure.
While the international trend is apparently moving toward the abolition of death penalty, with 141 countries abolishing it by law or in practice while 57 countries still maintain it, Japan "is getting increasingly isolated," Hiraoka said.
"We Japanese need to start a national debate on the death penalty, keeping international trends in mind," he said. "I believe such a debate is essential for pursuing the way our society should be, and also in making efforts to realize our constitutional ideal 'to secure an honorable position in the international community"'
The ruling Democratic Party of Japan, which took power in 2009 with Chiba being the first justice minister under its rule, showed readiness in its Policy Index of 2009 to seek public discussion of issues surrounding the death penalty, including temporary suspension of executions.
But Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, the third DPJ prime minister who assumed office last September, said following the executions last month he has no plans to do away with capital punishment.
The Japan Federation of Bar Associations, for its part, called for the government in its declaration adopted last year to immediately launch public debate on abolition of the death penalty and suspend executions while discussions are ongoing.
Yuichi Kaido, JFBA secretary general, indicated in the symposium that the lawyers' group could step forward to abolishing capital punishment after intense in-house debate, as the members mostly shared a view that an execution means to kill a person.
He also said the JFBA is working to introduce a judicial system under which death sentences are delivered unanimously in lay judge trials.
Lay judge trials involve three professional judges and six citizen judges. Under the current system, verdicts are based on what are called conditional majorities, meaning an overall majority that must include at least one professional judge.
"It is incredible that a death sentence can be delivered by a majority vote of five-to-four," Kaido said.
Also among the speakers at the event was Seiken Sugiura, who served as justice minister from 2005 to 2006 under the government of the Liberal Democratic Party and did not issue execution orders during his 11-month tenure.
"I believe the death penalty will eventually be abolished in Japan as it is a democratic country ruled by law, and people's awareness of human rights is definitely not low," Sugiura said. (Sources: Mainichi Japan, 19/04/2012)