The criminal justice system should be urgently reformed

Press release

Oral Statement on the Adoption of the Outcome Report of the Universal Periodic Review of Japan

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
Centre for Prisoners’ Rights (CPR)

22nd Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council
March 14, 2013

FIDH and CPR deeply regret that the government of Japan refused to accept important recommendations related to the criminal justice system, in particular a moratorium or abolition of the death penalty and reform of substitute detention in police stations (known as daiyo kangoku system), which have been reiterated not only in the framework of the UPR but also by other UN bodies such as the Human Rights Committee and the Committee against Torture.

Since last March, Japan has regularly conducted executions. In 2012, seven inmates were executed by the government led by the Democratic Party of Japan. In 2013, prior to this 22nd session of the Human Rights Council, Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, former President of the Liberal Democratic Party, ordered the executions of three death row inmates on February 21.

It is obvious that the death penalty is one of the most serious problems which Japan faces today. Despite a very low homicide rate, there has been an increase in the number of death sentences; at the same time, more death sentences are executed. This partly results from the impossibility for many inmates to exercise their rights of appeal, especially under the new trial system which requires involvement of citizen judges in decision-making for capital punishment cases, while the government has denied the need for introducing a mandatory appeal system.

Concern about expanding use of the death penalty has become even more serious considering the absence of reform or repeal of the daiyo kangoku system, which allows investigative authorities to detain a suspect in a police cell up to 23 days without charge, and makes it possible for the authorities to have total control on the life of a suspect for 24 hours, enabling them to extract confessions. This system, combined with lack of presence of defense lawyers at the interview and video-taping of the whole process of interrogation, is a hotbed of false confessions which could lead to ultimate punishment, as typically seen in a case of Mr. Hakamada, who is widely believed to be actually innocent but has been facing the threat of executions more than 30 years (he was initially convicted in 1968 and the Supreme Court of Japan upheld his death sentence in 1980).

FIDH and CPR urge the Government of Japan to establish a moratorium on death penalty and take further steps towards abolition.

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