The Death Penalty In Japan, A Practice Unworthy of a Democracy

Publication of an international investigation report

A Call to the European Union and the Council of Europe.

The FIDH has a longstanding position of opposition to the death penalty, and therefore started a series of missions in countries still practicing this form of punishment. In October 2002, a mission went to Japan in order to investigate the conditions in which death row inmates are judged and detained.

The Death Penalty In Japan, A Practice Unworthy of a Democracy

The results of this mission have been published in English, French and Japanese in the mission report entitled, The Death Penalty in Japan, A Practice Unworthy of a Democracy.
The conclusions drawn up raise major concern: since 1993, 43 prisoners have been sentenced to death in Japan without any public reaction, and another 56 prisoners condemned to death are on death row, awaiting execution.

Despite the Japanese Federation of Bar Associations’ efforts towards improving the defence system, Japanese prisoners - especially those sentenced to death - do not receive a fair trial.
The Daiyo Kangoku practice is one amongst several practices which allows suspects to be detained in police stations for 23 days, contravening the rules of a fair trial. Confessions, which can be obtained through strong pressure, give police the basis for accusation. Therefore judicial errors occur quite frequently at the beginning of this first phase of the procedure.

Furthermore, the conditions on death row themselves amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatments: Once the death sentence has been delivered, the prisoner is held in solitary confinement. Detainees have extremely limited contact with families and lawyers and meetings are closely monitored. Above all, prisoners live with the constant fear of never knowing if today will be their last day. The prisoner is informed that the execution will take place on the very same day, and family members are notified the following day. The Ministry of Justice signs the execution order and is supposed to intervene within six months following the finalisation of the sentence. However, in practice, this rule is never abided by and certain death row detainees have spent several decades behind bars asking themselves each morning if they would be hanged that day. This was the case for Sakae Menda who spent 34 years of his life behind bars before being acquitted. The FIDH recall that long isolation periods violate article 7 and 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Capital punishment in Japan completely contradicts current International Law evolution, which is working evermore towards abolition of the death penalty or at least towards obtaining a universal moratorium on executions.

The secrecy surrounding executions coupled with the absence of debate in the Japanese media keeps this practice alive. In Japan, the parliamentary coalition for the abolition of the death penalty must be supported for in its campaign towards abolition, which includes setting up a two-year moratorium along with a law abolishing capital punishment.

On the International front, hope comes from the intergovernmental and regional organs, and especially from the discussions between the UE and Japan. In this regard, The FIDH regrets that the Joint Statement issued at the end of the 12th EU-Japan Summit does not mention the issue of death penalty in Japan. The FIDH recalls that, as defined by the EU guidelines on the death penalty adopted by the EU in June 1998 and by the General Affairs Council of June 2001 on the relations between the EU and third party states, the issue of human rights and death penalty should be raised systematically during such Summits. Hence, the FIDH asks the European Union to systematically include the issue of death penalty in its dialogue with Japan, at all levels.

The FIDH is also asking the Council of Europe, considering that over the last 2 years, Japan has not reacted effectively to the calls of the Council of Europe, to decide the suspension of the observer status for a renewable period of 1 year, and to propose the development, in Japan, of specific programs aiming at promoting abolition, on the occasion of the next session of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, to be held on 23-27 June 2002.

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