Death Penalty Information
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Death row: limbo of not knowing when
Japan is among 69 nations, including the United States, that have the
There are 128 countries, including European Union members, that have
either abolished capital punishment, allow it only under special
circumstances or have not carried it out in at least a decade. (In the
U.S., 12 states do not have the death penalty.)
Despite international and domestic pressure to end executions, they are on
the rise here.
Below are some facts about Japan's death penalty:
Who can be put to death?
Murderers, as well as arsonists and robbers whose actions result in death,
are subject to capital punishment. Kidnappers and hijackers who kill
hostages also face the death penalty.
How many death-row inmates are there in Japan?
For the 1st time since 1946, the number is at 100, including 5 women.
There were just 51 in 1997.
In recent years, prosecutors and courts have adopted a "get tough" policy
on crime, resulting in a surge in death sentences, according to Maiko
Tagusari, a lawyer and human rights activist.
Tagusari said this trend reflects the overall sense of a decline in public
safety, fed by sensationalistic media reports on heinous crimes, as well
as calls from relatives of crime victims for harsher penalties.
Statistics, however, show that murders have declined slightly over the
past few years. In 2005, there were 1,392 murder cases, down 1.9 % from
the year before, according to the 2006 white paper on crime.
How is the death penalty carried out, and where do executions take place?
Executions are carried out by hanging. Seven detention centers are
equipped with gallows; in Sapporo, Sendai, Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Hiroshima
What are the living conditions of death-row convicts?
Inmates are kept in solitary confinement in tatami mat cells about 8 sq.
meters in size. The cells have a toilet and sink. Inmates are also kept in
isolation during exercise periods and eat their meals alone.
Virtually the only people who may visit or correspond with an inmate are
attorneys and relatives. Even an inmate's reading material is strictly
However, a legal revision to take effect by June 7 is expected to ease
these tight restrictions on communications and reading material.
How long is an inmate usually on death row?
Once finalized, by law a death sentence must be carried out within six
months. However, executions are not carried out while an inmate is seeking
retrial, an accused accomplice is still on trial, or if the inmate is
mentally incompetent or pregnant.
On average, it takes 7 years and 5 months for a death sentence to be
carried out, according to the Justice Ministry. Thus the September 2004
execution of Mamoru Takuma, who fatally stabbed eight children and wounded
15 others at an Osaka elementary school, was unusual in that he was hanged
only a year after his case was finalized. He had refused to appeal.
There are also inmates who have been on death row for decades, pleading
their innocence and demanding retrials. The process is notoriously slow,
and retrials are a rarity. Over the past 30 years, only four have been
granted a retrial and subsequently acquitted.
Observers believed Masaru Okunishi, 80, who has been on death row since
1972, was set to be the fifth to go free when the Nagoya High Court
granted him a retrial in April 2005. However, the court revoked its
decision last December. Okunishi's supporters filed a special appeal
against the decision with the Supreme Court.
While awaiting the long retrial process, a few inmates have died of
illness; others have reportedly developed mental problems.
Are inmates hanged immediately after the justice minister issues an
The Criminal Procedure Law states that an execution must be carried out
within 5 days after the justice minister signs the order. But the process
is confidential; a convict only finds out on the day of the hanging.
By law, executions may not be carried out on holidays, New Year's Eve, New
Year's Day and Jan. 2. This restriction will be extended to weekends,
national holidays and the period between Dec. 29 and Jan. 3 when the law
Observers note that hangings often take place when the Diet is in recess,
presumably to avoid stirring up debate among lawmakers. The last
executions, of four inmates, were carried out Dec. 25, shortly after an
extraordinary Diet session ended Dec. 19.
The condemned are only notified on the morning of their execution. In
general, relatives are only informed afterward, according to the Justice
Once executed, the ministry issues a press release, although the names and
execution site are not disclosed. The media, however, find out from the
next of kin, lawyers, human rights groups or from inside sources.
The extreme secrecy is rare among nations where executions are legal,
according to Amnesty International.
Why is information on capital punishment so secret?
The Justice Ministry explains that there are no regulations that oblige it
to provide such information in advance to inmates. The ministry claims
death-row inmates and their kin will suffer less emotional distress if
they are kept in the dark.
However, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, Amnesty International
and other international groups criticize the lack of advance notice as a
clear human rights violation, in which the inmate is in a constant state
of mental torture, fearing every knock at the cell door.
Where does the public stand on the death penalty?
In a 2004 survey conducted by the Cabinet Office, only 6 % of the
respondents opposed capital punishment, while 81.4 % agreed the death
penalty is appropriate in certain cases.
Many supporters believe heinous crimes "should be compensated by life" and
abolishing the death penalty would increase those crimes, while the pain
of the families, meanwhile, would not be healed.
Opponents argue that strong support for the death penalty is a reflection
of the government's efforts to conceal information from the public and to
deprive citizens of the opportunity for serious debate on the system.
Some lawyers are suing the government for turning down their request to
disclose information on the death chambers.
How are politicians reacting to the death penalty?
In the past decade, all but one politician who served as justice minister
signed execution papers at least once during their term.
The one who didn't, Seiken Sugiura, a member of the ruling Liberal
Democratic Party, served as justice minister between October 2005 and last
When he took the post, Sugiura said he would refuse to sign the order
because it was against his faith. He later withdrew his remarks, saying
his personal views and official position were different.
(source: Japan Times)
Museveni Supports Death Penalty
PRESIDENT Yoweri Museveni said on Friday that HIV carriers who
deliberately infect others should be charged with murder.
"People who infect others deliberately are killers - they are murders,"
Gen. Museveni said during the Forum on Justice and Human Rights at Speke
Resort Munyonyo, a Kampala suburb.
"I would treat harshly someone who gets involved with another knowing that
he or she has HIV. We clearly need to be tough on this (AIDS)."
The President was answering a question from Prof. Joseph Kakooza, the head
of the Uganda Law Reform Commission, who wondered how he wanted such
Gen. Museveni had earlier on concurred with visiting former Attorney
General of the United States of America John Ashcroft on his call for the
retention of the death penalty as punishment for capital offences.
"I am a strong believer in the death penalty. I've heard that in some
places in Europe, they forgive a deliberate killer. But how do you for
instance control the Army? Soldiers are no longer killing people because
we execute whoever kills another. It will take a long time for someone to
convince me," he said.
Mr Ashcroft, who addressed the meeting attended by judges, lawyers,
policemen, prison officers and others who contribute to the Justice, Law
and Order Sector, said the death penalty is good because it saves lives.
"If you believe in self-defence when you have been attacked, I think it
makes sense to execute people who get convicted for killing others. Once
you cross that bridge, then you support capital punishment," Mr Ashcroft
The forum organised by an American-based NGO, Restore International and
Uganda's Judicial Training Institute, focused on the rising cases of human
trafficking and child prostitution.
Restore International's founder and president Bob Goff said the phenomena
has hit most countries and is now considered the world's third organised
Former Solicitor General Peter Kabatsi said human trafficking is some form
of slavery and a crime in which people are moved from poor environments to
affluent ones under the guise of finding them better opportunities.
He said the victims, 80 % of whom are normally women, end up being abused
sexually, physically and psychologically.
For child trafficking, Mr Kabatsi said immature children are made to
engage in dangerous activities that they do not fully comprehend.
Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki said the crime has gained momentum due to
various issues like poverty and insurgencies and that quick solutions
needed to be mapped out.
Joel Aliro Omara, a commissioner with the Uganda Human Rights Commission,
said there are international laws against these vices. He, however, said
their enforcement has been complicated because law enforcers often pounce
on victims and the perpetrators are left at large, something he said needs
to be changed.
Principal Judge James Ogoola said research indicated that Uganda is one of
the countries caught up in the international scam, not only as a country
of origin, but as a transit country and destination for human trafficking.
"People are taken on pretences that they are going to work then they are
turned into sex objects and slaves," he said.
President Museveni, who called for the enactment of a local law to curb
the crime, attributed Africa's taking part in such international crimes to
colonialists, saying there was nothing like abuse of human rights in the
(source: The Monitor)
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Executions Create Generations of Victims
Mithre J. Sandrasagra
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 12 (IPS) - "They're going to kill him because he killed somebody, so when they kill him, who do we get to kill?" asked the 10-year-old daughter of Christina Lawson at the time of her father's execution by the U.S. state of Texas in 2005.
State executions leave such children confused and traumatised -- and entire families, too. Some are so affected that they are driven to the brink of insanity, a groundbreaking report entitled "Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families left Behind" graphically illustrates.
It has been published by Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights (MVFHR), a Massachusetts-based organisation representing the family members of the victims of murder and state executions.
"Families of the executed are victims too," the report stresses.
The pain of one group of survivors should not be redressed by causing pain to another group of survivors. Society needs to address the ! emotional and physical harm that is being done.
"We must stop creating more victims," Robert Cushing, executive director of MVFHR, told IPS.
"There are obviously similarities between the experiences of those left behind after an execution and those who have suffered other types of violent loss -- like dealing with grief and trauma," he said.
But there were also major differences, he said, pointing to findings from the 36 families MVFHR surveyed for its report.
The families of the executed suffered from "shame, increased isolation and feelings of personal failure". They might also feel responsible for the crimes of their relatives or blame themselves for their inability to save them from execution.
Janis Gay, whose grandfather Alex Kels was hanged at California's Folsom Prison in 1924, confirmed just this in an interview with IPS.
"People assume violence ends with the execution," she said. "It doesn't. Just like with any murder! , the family is shattered, with the added impact of being crushed by s hame."
Her mother's promising writing career was halted by depression. Her brother died of alcoholism. All contact with the families of her grandfather's seven brothers and sisters was cut off forever.
The trauma can be passed on from one generation to another.
Gay, a teacher, entered therapy in 1991. She says she is one of the fortunate few who could afford to pay for a psychotherapist to help her cope.
"It's impossible to find support," she said. "There's no one to talk to, no one who understands. Food is provided and therapists are on hand before and after an execution for the families of the victims of the executed. But there is nothing for the families of the executed."
The MVFHR report gives other examples of mental health problems within the families of the executed.
Misty McWee was 14 when she learned that her father had been charged with murder. She was 28 when her father was executed.
McWee suf! fered severe depression in the year following the execution, culminating in a hospitalisation after a suicide attempt near the one-year anniversary.
"It felt like the two things were connected, my father's execution and my cutting my wrists," she recalled to MVFHR's researchers. "I didn't care what happened to me. I felt like I should go be with him.
"Why couldn't we have had someone to help us through it?" she asked. "When we walked in the courtroom, people gave us dirty looks, just because we belonged to our father. You wonder, what did we as kids do to deserve this? There's so much you're trying to understand and it doesn't help to have people judging you. People look at it like the whole family must be bad."
Irene Cartwright, whose son Richard was executed in Texas in 2005, also required treatment for depression afterwards and is today taking anti-depressants.
"I wish people could understand that everyone who is executed had a mother and ! father, maybe brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, friends, whateve r, and that each one of those people have been hurt and impacted by the execution," he told researchers.
MVFHR's report concludes that the needs of the families of the executed have not just been ignored, they have never been truly comprehended.
"The problem is that survivors are not recognised as victims," Cushing told IPS. "There are no execution victim families' support groups, there are no counselling services available to children left behind. Nobody knows where they are, they lead anonymous lives."
MVFHR is now calling for more studies of their problems.
"We challenge the metal health community to recognise that these victims exist, to recognise the uniqueness of their experiences and to devise appropriate treatment alternatives for them," Cushing added.
MVFHR specifically recommends that the short and long-term psychological effects of an execution in the family be included in literature and training directed at social workers, ! clinical psychologists, trauma specialists, and others who might come in contact with such families.
It also calls on lawmakers to give equal legal recognition to families of the executed as the relatives of murder victims.
They should all have access to assistance and support. This should include financial help to pay for medical care, mental health counselling and funerals, Cushing said.
MVFHR breaks new ground by calling for the suffering of the families left behind after an execution to be squarely placed within a human rights framework rather than a criminal justice one. The victims' families deserve protection accorded by the Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1985.
The Declaration defines victims as those who have "suffered harm, including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering, economic loss or substantial impairment of their fundamental r! ights".
These victims "should be treated with compassion and r espect for their dignity" and "receive the necessary material, medical, psychological and social assistance".
"Leadership must come from the U.N.," Cushing concludes. "This is an international human rights problem." (FIN/2007)
Wednesday, February 07, 2007