UN body slams death row conditions, demands progress towards the abolition of capital punishment

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(Paris, Tokyo) FIDH and Center for Prisoners’ Rights (CPR) welcome the findings and recommendations by a key United Nations (UN) human rights body with regard to the death penalty and detention conditions in Japan.

The findings and recommendations were contained in the Concluding Observations published by the UN Human Rights Committee (CCPR), following its review of Japan’s seventh periodic report under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which was held on 13 and 14 October 2022 in Geneva, Switzerland. [1] The CCPR monitors compliance by state parties to the ICCPR with the Covenant’s provisions.

“The Japanese government’s protracted failure to make progress towards the abolition of the death penalty is a big stain on its human rights record. Tokyo should heed the UN’s recommendations and take steps to ensure capital punishment is relegated to the country’s past.”

Adilur Rahman Khan, FIDH Secretary-General

The CCPR regretted the Japanese government had not taken steps to abolish the death penalty or to limit the number of capital crimes. It expressed concern that several of the 19 capital offenses did not meet the threshold of the “most serious crimes.” In her closing remarks on 14 October, the CCPR Chair described as “unfortunate” the fact that on the issue of abolition the government’s position had not appeared to change “at all.”

The CCPR was “deeply concerned” by reports of executions being carried out while requests for retrials by death row prisoners were still pending. It was also concerned by the lack of a mandatory system of review in capital cases as well as of an independent mechanism to monitor the mental health of death row prisoners. The prolonged solitary confinement - including of up to 40 years before execution - and the intrusive 24-hour video surveillance to which death row prisoners have been regularly subjected were also highlighted as issues of concern by the CCPR.

With regard to detention conditions, the CCPR criticized the use of prolonged solitary confinement, the lack of access to adequate medical services for prisoners, and the denial of procedural guarantees, such as access to counsel and contact with family members. It also recommended to take the necessary steps to ensure fair treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) inmates in correctional facilities, including by reviewing the 2015 Guidelines for Treatment of Transgender Inmates and their implementation to ensure solitary confinement is not used as the standard treatment for transgender inmates.

The CCPR’s findings echo many of the same issues identified by FIDH and CPR ahead of Japan’s review. In August 2022, the two organizations denounced the use of solitary confinement and intrusive video surveillance of death row prisoners in Japan.

“Japanese authorities should stop treating individuals facing execution as objects. Death row prisoners have rights and should be treated in accordance with international standards and Japan’s obligations under international human rights law.”

Teppei Ono, CPR Secretary-General

FIDH and CPR urge the Japanese government to take immediate steps towards the implementation of the CCPR recommendations with regard to the death penalty and detention conditions. Such recommendations include: establishing a moratorium on the use of the death penalty; reducing the number of capital offenses; ensure that death row prisoners are not subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; refraining from imposing prolonged solitary confinement and using 24-hour video surveillance on death row prisoners; establishing a mandatory and effective system of review of death sentences; ensuring that the mental health of death row prisoners is reviewed by an independent mechanism; guaranteeing the strict confidentiality of all meetings between death row prisoners and their lawyers concerning requests for retrial; and acceding to the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.

FIDH and CPR also call on the Japanese government to vote in favor of the biennial UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution to establish a global moratorium on the death penalty, with a view to fully abolishing capital punishment. The resolution is expected to be adopted by the UNGA next month.

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