Saturday, July 31, 2010

"Death Penalty Debate

"Two executions were carried out Wednesday, the first under the government led by the Democratic Party of Japan.

"Justice Minister Keiko Chiba, who ordered the executions and witnessed the hangings, said, "Once again, I strongly felt the need for a fundamental debate on capital punishment."

"She expressed her intention to set up a study group on the issue within the ministry and to give the media access to execution sites.

"Opposition parties have criticized Chiba, who lost her seat in the July 11 Upper House election, for remaining in office.

"Since Chiba has made clear her opposition to capital punishment, her decision to sign the execution orders raised criticism and questions. Chiba's qualifications as justice minister are certain to be discussed during the extraordinary Diet session.

"The points she raised deserve a serious response, however.

"Although the need for a debate on capital punishment has long been pointed out, there have been no in-depth discussions. Authorities have kept facts surrounding executions in strict secrecy, allowing the public to stay away from the issue.

"There have been no serious problems because the majority of citizens felt that capital punishment has no direct bearing on them. But the public must now face the issue because the citizen judge system was introduced for trials for serious crimes in May last year.

"It can be quite difficult to form an opinion on the death penalty. We have not been able to take a clear stand on this issue.

"In opinion polls, supporters overwhelmingly outnumber abolitionists. But this type of punishment leaves absolutely no room for mistakes in court judgments.

"Amid the global trend toward abolition, calls are growing overseas for Japan to stop using the death penalty. If Japan maintains capital punishment, it could face various disadvantages and negative treatment from abroad.

"Any decision on the issue must be in sync with the people's sense of justice and views about criminal punishment. We know it sounds banal, but the only way to find an answer is through an exhaustive debate.

"More attention should be paid to the information and perceptions that have built the people's views on the issue.

"Although many people feel that public security is deteriorating, the number of vicious crimes has been declining. How should we understand this perception gap?

"How should we consider the conflicting views about whether capital punishment serves as a deterrent to criminal behavior?

"What about the feelings and suffering of the crime victims and their families? What kind of life do death-row inmates lead, and how do they and people around them handle the day of execution?

"We need to know the realities surrounding the issue for meaningful discussions. Chiba's proposals to create a study group and allow the press to see the execution sites must help move us toward that goal.

"We should closely watch the situation to ensure that Chiba's proposals will not be left in the air or watered down under a new justice minister expected in the near future.

"It can be depressing to think about or discuss the issue of crime and punishment, and the question of whether the death penalty is necessary must be a subject that many people want to avoid.

"But each member of society needs to face this challenge now that citizens are directly involved in criminal trials."

Asahi Shimbun (Editorial, 7/30/2010), Link to article (last visited 7/31/2010)

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