[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----worldwide
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Nov 24 10:43:09 CST 2004
The worst fate a man can possibly think of is to be executed for a crime
he has not committed. One of the most prominent figures who escaped such a
fate by a hairbreadth is former President Kim Dae-jung.
Back in 1980, military coup leaders condemned Kim to death after he was
convicted of treason in a court-martial. But under pressure from the
international community, they suspended his sentence and freed him in
No wonder the freedom fighter, who rose from death row to the presidency,
did not allow any execution during his 5-year term in office that ended in
February 2003. None of the convicts on the death row, now numbering 59,
has since been executed.
Now, lawmakers are moving to abolish the death penalty itself, with the
risk of killing an innocent person being one of the justifiable reasons
for their opposition to capital punishment. Under their bill, a life
sentence permitting no commutation or parole would replace the death
The lawmakers' efforts should be appreciated, because it is time that the
nation seriously considered amending the death penalty statutes. It is
necessary to move the proposal to end capital punishment into the domain
of active public debate.
Capital punishment is often seemingly justified by the claim that
executing those having perpetrated the most serious crimes will cause
potential offenders to avoid committing similar deeds for fear of being
executed themselves and that this would lower crime rates. Though such an
argument may sound convincing, executions reportedly have no impact on
reducing capital crime rates. On the contrary, some research suggests they
may in fact do the opposite.
Another seemingly plausible justification is the desire for vengeance or
retribution. But those opposed to the death penalty on moral or religious
grounds insist that killing a person is always wrong or evil, be it done
by an individual or the state. They also believe that the state, not to
mention an individual, has no right to terminate a human life under any
The proposal to end capital punishment is gaining the upper hand in the
international community, with a growing number of countries having
abandoned or moving to abandon the death penalty. It has gained a boost
from the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which in April 2003 adopted a
resolution calling for abolition of executions.
But in Korea, the lawmakers calling for an end to capital punishment will
have to fight an uphill battle, given the general public's stiff
opposition. According to a recent survey, only 30.9 % of the respondents
support the proposal to replace the death sentence with a life sentence,
while 66.3 percent favor keeping the death penalty intact.
It is the third attempt by lawmakers to abolish the death penalty. Similar
bills were submitted during the 2 previous National Assemblies. But no
substantive debate followed, with the conservative Judiciary and
Legislation Committee taking no action on the bills.
Riding on public sentiment in favor of capital punishment, the committee
may succeed again in foiling the lawmakers' efforts. Also working against
the lawmakers are two court decisions - one by the Supreme Court in 1987
and the other by the Constitutional Court in 1995 - which upheld that the
death penalty is constitutional.
Being constitutional does not necessarily mean that the relevant statutes
cannot be amended. Still, the rulings will continue to give ammunition to
those fighting against the proposal to end the death penalty.
But the lawmakers must not be discouraged if their bill should fail to
move forward, as happened in the past. Instead, they will have to work
with other human rights advocates to change public opinion in favor of
(source: Editorial, Korea Herald)
Climate Ripe at Assembly for Abolition of Death Penalty
The prospects in the National Assembly for a bill to abolish the death
penalty are looking brighter than ever, as a majority of 152 lawmakers in
the 299-seat National Assembly having already put their names to it.
Moreover, unlike at the 15th and 16th Assemblies where the bill could not
be presented at the plenary session because it failed to pass the
Legislation and Judiciary Committee, 10 of the 15 lawmakers in the
committee now stand in favor of the bill, which would practically mean a
smooth road for the bill, at least in the unicameral legislature.
Considering the nature of politics, the only unstable factor remaining at
this point is public opinion. Previous surveys have invariably indicated
that general public opinion in the nation is still far from embracing the
movement, with sentiment worsening when the notorious serial killer Yoo
Young-chul confessed to at least 21 cases of murder this summer.
Rep. Yoo In-tae, who was himself once sentenced to death as a student
activist in 1974 under the authoritarian rule of Park Chung-hee, led the
bill into the Assembly this time. He admitted the hurdle of public opinion
to The Korea Times during a seminar on the abolition of capital punishment
and legislation for life imprisonment on Monday at the Assembly's Members'
"In fact, public opinion is still unfavorable toward this move. But as has
been the case in other countries that successfully abolished the penalty,
I think there is a real possibility (for the bill to pass) this time," he
At the seminar organized by the Pan Religious Council for the Abolition of
the Death Penalty and others who have long been active in the campaign, 2
unique guests from Japan and the United States drew special attention.
Yoshihiro Yasuda, a Japanese lawyer ardently against capital punishment
and in charge of defending Shoko Asahara, founder and leader of Aum
Shinrikyo, said he was once against life imprisonment as he considered it
a cruel and inhumane punishment. "But it's still better in that it only
takes away freedom instead of life itself. The legislation would also be
helpful in persuading the public to agree with the abolishment of the
death penalty, in that life imprisonment is as cruel a punishment," he
The speech by Renny Cushing, former member of the U.S. House of
Representative and now executive director of Murder Victims' Families for
Human Rights and a steering committee member of the World Coalition to
Abolish the Death Penalty, was perhaps the most moving for audiences as
Cushing's father was murdered in 1988.
Stressing the need to not just abolish the death penalty but also help
victims, Cushing argued that: "Our opposition is grounded not so much upon
our concern with what the death penalty does to killers, but because of
what the death penalty does to us, to society - We believe that a
replication by the state of the deadly violence that took our loved ones
from us make us all killers. And from our victim identity, we do not want
to be killers."
Rep. Yang Seoung-jo, the only member of the ruling Uri Party in the
Legislation-Judiciary Committee against the bill, told The Korea Times
yesterday that he thinks it is a jump of logic to think like Cushing, and
also questioned how many victims would share his view. "I think the
criminal code cannot abandon its nature of retributive justice. It is my
belief that the death penalty does well for both suppressing crimes and
soothing victims, and I will vote against the bill," he said in a phone
However, Yang, a former lawyer, admitted that the bill had a greater
chance of being passed this time. "It's kind of the trend of our time.
Nevertheless, we should be mindful of the fact that the good intentions of
emphasizing human rights in one way could also lead us to harm," he said.
(source: The Korea Times)
EU Pushes for Abolition of Death Penalty----Convicted criminals in Vietnam
still face possible execution
The EU begins hosting a 3-day seminar on the death penalty in Vietnam on
Wednesday. Part of the EU's effort to abolish the death penalty around the
world, the event may signal that its efforts are paying off.
On Wednesday, experts and government officials from Vietnam and 4 other
countries will gather in Hanoi for the EU-hosted seminar, where they'll
discuss Vietnam's continued use of the death penalty.
Surprisingly, the seminar is taking place at the prompting of the -- until
recently -- staunchly pro-death penalty Vietnamese government. Some
experts are taking it as a sign that EU efforts to abolish the death
penalty around the world may be starting to bear fruit.
While more than 118 countries have abolished the death penalty either in
law or practice, 78 remain committed to the policy, including the United
States, a country with whom the EU currently has strained relations. In
moving its anti-death penalty campaign forward, the EU faces significant
Vietnamese offer to debate issue
In the past, European efforts to raise the issue of the death penalty with
Vietnamese officials had very little effect. But at a recent meeting, the
Vietnamese side expressed an interest in taking an in-depth look at their
The agenda of this week's meeting will cover relevant instruments of
international law, including the United Nation's International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and its second Optional Protocol on the
Death Penalty. In addition, European abolition experiences, Vietnamese
practice and application, alternative punishments, and transitional
strategies will be discussed, Chistoph Wiesner, head of the Political,
Commercial and Economic Section of the EU Delegation of the European
Commission to Vietnam, told DW-WORLD.
However, he is not optimistic that the seminar will prompt immediate
"We do not expect it to have any immediate impact on the realties in
Vietnam," he said. "We hope, however, that it will contribute to ongoing
reflections about a possible reduction of the death penalty's scope of
application as a first step towards eventual overall abolition."
EU takes on the death penalty
Since the late 1990's, the EU has taken an increasingly active role in
pushing for the abolition of the death penalty around the world. In 1997,
the same year the UN Commission on Human Rights passed a resolution
calling on all countries to abolish the death penalty, the EU heads of
government called for the universal abolition of the death penalty. In
1998, the EU drew up policy guidelines, promising to "where relevant,
raise the issue of the death penalty in its dialogue with third
The EU has since used a variety of means to push the 78 remaining
holdouts, including the US, to reconsider their stance on capital
punishment. EU member states have agreed to make the abolition of the
death penalty mandatory for all acceding states, and regularly issue
demarches in cases where the application of the death penalty violates the
EU's minimum standards, as in the case of a Nigerian woman who was
sentenced to death by stoning.
In the US, the EU adopted a unique strategy. Since 2001, it has submitted
"amicus curiae" ("friends of the court") briefs to the US Supreme Court in
cases involving the death penalty. In a 2002 case involving a mentally
retarded person who was appealing a death sentence, the court ruled in
favor of the defendant and referred to the EU brief in its decision.
Room for improvement
Those involved with non-profit efforts to abolish the death penalty say
the EU has made a valuable contribution to the fight.
"It's 1st and main contribution was to put the death penalty's abolition
into the second article of the European Charter on Human Rights," Michel
Taube, Executive Director of the World Coalition Against the Death
Penalty, said. "The decision to definitively abolish the death penalty in
Europe was a big political and legal victory."
Nonetheless, Taube said there is room for improvement. For one, he would
like to see the EU place more emphasis on urging countries to sign-up to
internationally binding agreements, such as the ICCPR, which he said, is
the only truly effective way to end the use of the death penalty.
What's more, according to Taube, the EU has focused too strongly on the
death penalty as a purely human rights issue. In his opinion, the EU needs
to make a better case for the abolition of the death penalty in the
context of a more effective approach to crime prevention.
"The EU is not making a strong enough case that you can fight crime
without the death penalty," he said.
(source: Deutsche Welle)
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