Overseas Criticism of Japan's Death Penalty

JIADEP Note: The Japanese are very sensitive to overseas criticism of all aspects of their society. Likewise the death penalty. An abolitionist group from the European Union toured Japan in 2006. The Ministry of Justice celebrated their departure by hanging four inmates on Christmas Day of that year. Let the criticism continue!


U.S. occupation officials criticized Japan’s hanging method
Nov 17, 2013

By GEN OKAMOTO/ Staff Writer
Asahi Shinbun

U.S. occupation officials in 1949 raised concerns about how Japan executed prisoners, saying the condemned were not dying quickly enough under the hanging method that is still used today, a document showed.
The concerns were expressed in an internal document from the General Headquarters of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (GHQ) that was found in the National Diet Library by Kenji Nagata, an associate professor of law at Kansai University.

“The document shows that issues were being raised about the hanging method used in Japan from more than 60 years ago,” Nagata said.

The internal document was written by an official in the Civil Intelligence Section (G2) of GHQ and dated Sept. 2, 1949. The subject of the memo is “Executions, Japanese Prisons.”

In the document, an official in the Nagoya area is quoted as calling for a change in capital punishment “so as to effect rapid and more humane death of the subject.”

The statement indicates the official wanted Japan to employ hanging methods then in use in the United States that severed the neck vertebrae to instantly kill the prisoner.

The official in charge of prisons in G2 says in the document that the matter would be brought up with the director of the correction and rehabilitation bureau of what is now the Justice Ministry.

The document was originally kept in the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. A copy has been kept at the National Diet Library’s Modern Japanese Political History Materials Room.

Another GHQ internal document showed that 79 people were executed during the occupation period, and the average time before the individual was confirmed dead was about 14 minutes.

Japan’s hanging method has come under fire because those executed do not die quick deaths. Critics say the method violates Article 36 of the Constitution, which states “cruel punishments are absolutely forbidden.”

In a criminal trial held in 2011 at the Osaka District Court, a former prosecutor testified, “At one execution that I witnessed while working as a prosecutor, it took about 13 minutes before the individual died.”

Japan has used hanging for capital punishment since 1873.

U.N. panel raps Japan's death penalty
& police detention system
Friday October 17th, 2008

Members of a U.N. human rights panel criticized Japan’s death penalty and police detention, many calling for their abolishment during a meeting in Geneva on Wednesday and Thursday. The Human Rights Committee, meeting to discuss the situation in Japan for the first time in 10 years, is scheduled to announce its recommendation report for the country at the end of October, according to its members.

As Japanese government representatives maintained their position of keeping the practices in response to questions from the committee, its Chairman Rafael Rivas Posada remarked in closing that there have not been sufficient follow up or improvements from the panel’s previous review of the human rights conditions in Japan. The panel, made up of 18 legal and other experts, normally reviews the human rights situation of each of the 162 parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights once every five to six years to check on their compliance.


Amnesty protests death penalty at Japanese Embassy.

October 10, 2008


Anti-death penalty activists staged a mock hanging outside the Japanese embassy Friday to mark the European day against the death penalty, calling on nations around the world to stop executions.

Three actors with ropes around their necks stood in front of a large Japanese flag to draw attention to the practice remains legal in Japan, the United States, Iran, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, among other nations.

“In Asia, there are a lot of countries that still apply the death penalty and one of them is Japan,” said Francoise Dieryck from Amnesty International’s Belgium office.

Japan hanged three death-row inmates last month, bringing the number of executions there this year to 13 _ up from just one inmate executed in 2005.

The protest came as European Union leaders issued a declaration against capital punishment, demanding a global moratorium and eventual ban on the practice.

“The death penalty constitutes a violation of the most fundamental of human rights: the right to life,” said an EU statement.

EU nations agreed last year to make Oct. 10 an annual day to protest the death penalty. The 27-nation bloc has pushed hard at the United Nations to get U.N. member states back a universal ban on the practice.

Rights groups agree that China executed more people than any other country in the world last year, but estimates of those executions vary widely.

Amnesty International says at least 470 people were put to death in China last year, down from an estimated 1,010 in 2006, although it cautions the real figure could be much higher because of China’s lack of transparency.

Another monitoring group, the San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation, says its research indicated about 6,000 people were executed in 2007, a 25 to 30% drop from the year before.

The Rome-based Hands Off Cain, which campaigns to stop the death penalty, estimated that China executed least 5,000 people in 2007.

Iran had the second highest number of executions, with 377 in 2007, according to Amnesty.

The United States was fifth in the rankings with 42 executions, 11 less than in 2006.


Italian group criticizes Japanese justice minister over death penalty

Friday 25th July, 2008


An Italian civic group against the death penalty criticized Japanese Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama in a report released Thursday, describing him as an “outspoken supporter of the death penalty” who broke taboos maintained in Japan over executions.

Hands Off Cain said Hatoyama, who took office in August last year, “is trying to reduce the number of prisoners on death row.” Under him, Japan has executed 13 people, reducing the number of death-row inmates to 102 following the June 17 execution of Tsutomu Miyazaki, who was convicted of the killings of four girls. The Rome-based group said in the report on executions around the world in 2007 that ‘‘the principles and taboos that Japan maintained with regard to capital punishment are being systematically broken down,’’ in reference to the conventions of not publicizing the executions and not carrying them out while the Diet is in session.


U.N. body advises Japan to reform prison system
The Japan Times: Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Compiled from Kyodo, AP
The U.N. Committee against Torture has unveiled a report that advises Japan to reform its "substitute prison" system, part of its concluding observations on human rights reports from Japan and six other countries.

The committee report also accuses Japan of trying to whitewash its past practice of forcing women to become sex slaves for Japanese Imperial army soldiers, and urged Tokyo to help surviving victims.

The committee, which examined Japan's first report on the issue, made the observations earlier this month in line with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

"The Committee was deeply concerned with the prevalent and systematic use of the 'daiyo kangoku' substitute prison system for the prolonged detention of arrested persons even after they had appeared before a court," it said in a press release Monday.

Coupled with insufficient procedural guarantees, use of such prisons "increased the possibilities of abuse of detainees' rights," it said.

The committee advised Japan to amend its laws "to ensure complete separation between the functions of investigation and detention," and to "limit the maximum time detainees could be held in police custody in line with international minimum standards."

It noted that the system of notifying death-row inmates of their execution hours before it takes place "could amount to torture or ill-treatment." It also criticized the practice of "keeping death-row prisoners in solitary confinement after the final sentence was handed down, in some cases exceeding 30 years."

On other matters, the committee highlighted the inadequacy of Japan's compensation for women forced into sexual servitude for its soldiers during World War II — euphemistically called "comfort women" — and called on Japan to take measures to eliminate sexual violence.
The Japan Times: Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Amnesty International demands immediate stop to Japan's executions

Saturday 12th April

Amnesty International urged the Japanese government Friday to immediately cease executions following the hanging of four inmates on Thursday. ‘‘We call on the Japanese government to adopt an immediate moratorium on executions in accordance with last year’s United Nations resolution,’’ Amnesty said. The execution of the four has brought the total number of executions in Japan in 2008 to seven.

‘‘We are extremely concerned about the increased number of executions,’’ Amnesty said, remarking on the steep rise in executions under Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama. Amnesty maintains that the executions have taken place in spite of the U.N. General Assembly’s adoption last December of a resolution calling on all member states to uphold a moratorium on executions as the first step toward abolishing the death penalty.


UN condemns Japan's execution of 3 prisoners

GENEVA (AP) -- The U.N.'s top human rights official criticized Japan on Monday for executing three convicted murderers.

Louise Arbour, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said the three were executed "suddenly and without advance warning to either the convicts or their families."

"This practice is problematic under international law and I call on Japan to reconsider its approach," she said.

Two prisoners were hanged in Tokyo and another was executed in the western city of Osaka last Friday, according to Japan's Justice Ministry.

Arbour said she was particularly dismayed by the execution of a 75-year-old prisoner.

"It is difficult to see what legitimate purpose is served by carrying out such executions of the elderly," she said in a statement. "At the very least, on humanitarian grounds, I would urge Japan to refrain from such action."

Arbour noted Japan's decision to release the names of the executed men, breaking with the traditional policy of secrecy surrounding executions in the country.

Japan has routinely faced criticism by human rights activists for keeping details of its executions secret. Until November 1998, the ministry only provided the number of executions in annual statistics.

Arbour said countries have a legal obligation to ensure strict safeguards in their use of the death penalty. It is widely accepted that executions should not be carried out in secret and without forewarning, which may amount to inhuman punishment and treatment under international law, she said.

Japan is one of the last industrialized nations to retain the death penalty, and Arbour urged it to join "the growing number of countries that have implemented a moratorium on executions or banned the practice altogether."
The Justice Ministry's latest available data show 104 more convicts remain on death row

Amnesty condemns execution of four on Christmas Day

Kyodo News
Amnesty International has sent a letter to Justice Minister Jinen Nagase expressing "grave concern" over the executions of four inmates Dec. 25, the international human rights group said.

"The retrograde step runs counter to the universal protection of human rights and is at odds with the international trend away from the use of the death penalty," Amnesty said in the letter issued in the name of its secretary general, Irene Khan.

It said that its provisional figures indicate only 20 of the 193 U.N. member states carried out state killings in 2006 and that the latest executions in Japan "will send a discouraging signal to nations in the Asia-Pacific region at a time when others -- South Korea and Taiwan, for example -- are considering the abolition of the death penalty."

On Christmas Day, Japan hanged four inmates, two of whom were over 70, ending a break since September 2005. Nagase's predecessor, Seiken Sugiura, did not authorize any executions during his 11 months in office.

Amnesty urged Nagase to stop further executions and to terminate the secrecy surrounding the application of the death penalty while initiating public and Diet debate by disclosing all information regarding capital punishment.

In Japan, death-row inmates, their families and their lawyers are not provided with any advance notice of their execution schedule, while the justice minister announces only the number of hanged inmates without identifying them.

Such secretive practices have frequently sparked criticism at home as well as overseas.

Meanwhile, a organization of Japanese people against capital punishment published a note left behind by Yoshio Fujinami, one of those hanged Dec. 25, in its latest newsletter.

"I have come to know many officials at the detention house, most of whom have been kind to me," Forum 90 quoted Fujinami as writing.

"I do not think there are any officials (at the detention house) I have never met, but if possible, I hope an unknown official will press the button to operate the gallows," he said. "I hope the justice minister will attend the execution and that I will be the last one to be executed."

Fujinami, who was 75 when he was hanged, also protested to the justice minister, saying in the last part of his note, "I am a semi-invalid, as I cannot stand or walk by myself."

A member of Forum 90 said in the newsletter, "I wonder how prison officials hanged a person who could neither stand nor walk. Maybe they held him in their arms and then bound his neck with a rope.

"It must be a cruel way of enforcing the penalty, which (I believe) is unconstitutional. (I) don't forgive what Justice Minister Nagase did," the member said. "We need to ask Mr. Nagase what he hoped to achieve by executing men over 70 and if he believes this is justice."

The Japan Times: Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2007
(C) All rights reserved

Japan keen to keep up with the killing of prisoners
The Japan Times: Sunday, Jan. 14, 2007


The fall of Saddam Hussein was supposed to lead to a bright new era of democracy for Iraqis, but so far all it's led to is anguish and bloodshed. Similarly, his trial at the hands of his own people was supposed to be an example of real justice, but it was little more than a sad piece of theater.

Moreover, his execution on Dec. 30 has disgusted most of the world for the way it was carried out. In the end, hardly anyone extracted any satisfaction from his ignominious death.

The travesty on the gallows in Baghdad has reignited worldwide debate over capital punishment, which is still practiced in many countries though the number is dwindling over time. The Philippines recently outlawed the death penalty and South Korea will likely do the same in the near future, which is ironic considering that the United Nation's new secretary general, former South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki Moon, departed from the traditional U.N. position of condemning capital punishment during his first day on the job by saying that it was a matter for each country to decide.

Ban's equivocation shows that he takes his mandate seriously -- a mandate not as much to the U.N. as to those countries, mainly China and the United States, who supported him for the secretary general's position over objections from other countries. China and the United States still have the death penalty.

As does Japan, which explains why there was no official comment about Hussein's execution other than a vague statement about continuing support for the current Baghdad administration.

In a bizarre bit of good fortune, the international furor over Hussein's hanging was so loud that it drowned out whatever complaints had been raised over the hanging of four men on Christmas Day in Tokyo and Hiroshima.

Some of the complaints, which came from opposition party members and organizations like Amnesty International, centered on the timing of the executions. According to reports in the Mainichi and Asahi Shimbun newspapers, the Justice Ministry has become worried that the list of prisoners on death row is becoming too long. There are almost a hundred.

Seiken Sugiura, who was the justice minister before the present one, Jinen Nagase, took over three months ago, didn't sign any execution orders during his tenure because of his religious beliefs. However, as the Asahi pointed out, a more relevant reason for the backlog is that more convicted killers are being sentenced to death. Until 2003, between two and seven criminals received the death penalty every year. In 2006 alone, the number was 20.

A high-ranking bureaucrat in the Justice Ministry told the Asahi that "if we allow the number of prisoners on death row to rise above 100, then the system breaks down." In other words, the ministry still sees the aim of capital punishment as being a deterrent, and if hangings aren't carried out then potential criminals aren't going to be deterred. Amnesty International and other organizations have shown that capital punishment is not a deterrent, but bureaucracies are not run on suppositions. They are run on directives that may or may not have anything to do with reality. The bottom line, according to the Justice Ministry bureaucrat, is that "we didn't want to end the year with zero executions."

Politicians have a different concern since they have to face the public and bureaucrats don't. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party didn't want to spark yet another debate in the Diet about executions by having them carried out during the most recent session, which ended Dec. 19. They also didn't want to carry them out close to the Emperor's birthday on Dec. 23. Christmas Day was the last acceptable day they could do it before everyone went home for the holidays.

According to surveys conducted by the prime minister's office, up to 80 percent of Japanese citizens are in favor of capital punishment. So why is the government so sheepish about executions? The Justice Ministry never announces them, only confirming they have taken place after the fact. They also do not reveal the names of the persons executed. The media find out from acquaintances of the condemned or interested parties who monitor prison activities.

In fact, the media have become more aggressive about reporting capital cases in the past several years, and for the first time that I can recall TV news reports announced the names of the condemned prisoners on the day they were put to death. Because the government carries out its death penalty policy in such an arbitrary way, it feels like a self-perpetuating system: Use it or lose it. The cynicism of the policy is obvious, which is why some media outlets asked, Why these four men? And why now?

Last October, writer Kaoru Takamura wrote an essay for the Mainichi in which she discussed the death sentence of the Nara man who murdered a little girl in 2005. She said she was troubled by the sentence because it seemed as if it was not based on objective criteria but rather on how loud society screamed for his extermination.

The essay caused a fuss, and recently a Mainichi editor discussed the subject with Takamura and published the transcript in the newspaper. Takamura's concern is that the policy is not consistent, and can't be. People are being sentenced to death for crimes that 10 years ago would have earned them a life sentence. Judges routinely take into consideration the feelings of the victims' families, who are covered sensationally by the media. "But how does a judge measure the depth of a family's sorrow?" Takamura asks. Should a person receive a heavier sentence for killing a child than for killing an adult?

Unless you remove all ambiguities and mitigating factors, capital punishment is, from a legal standpoint, inherently unfair. And as the Hussein execution revealed, it does not guarantee the kind of closure its adherents claim, just emptiness and frustration.

The Japan Times: Sunday, Jan. 14, 2007

(C) All rights reserved