New Justice Minister Satsuki Eda openly opposes capital punishment but can’t decide whether to perform his duty and sign off on executions or stick to his personal beliefs.
Eda became justice chief in Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s Jan. 14 Cabinet reshuffle.
“I can’t decide my position. That’s why it’s troubling,” Eda, who once served as chairman of the Amnesty lawmakers group, which opposes the death penalty, said in a group interview Jan. 26.
A justice minister can prevent executions simply by not signing off on them, but that’s controversial. Seiken Sugiura, justice minister from October 2005 to September 2006, didn’t order any hangings due to his personal beliefs.
Keiko Chiba, who held the post for a year from September 2009, signed off on two hangings last July, saying she “fulfilled her duty” despite her philosophical opposition to capital punishment.
Eda, who was a judge before entering politics and thus was involved in handing down death sentences, said he realizes judges sometimes have to mete out the ultimate punishment and acknowledged most of the public support sending convicted murderers to the gallows.
However, he also pointed out the global trend is to abolish the death penalty.
Japan is also looking at signing the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which is aimed at promptly returning children illegally taken by a parent out of the country of their habitual residence.
The question has arisen over whether the Civil Code should also be changed to allow dual parental rights after divorce. Eda said the Justice Ministry “is now discussing the matter, but I personally feel that allowing dual parental rights doesn’t necessarily have to” be packaged with signing the convention.
Signatory countries, particularly the United States, France and Canada, are urging Japan to join the convention against international child abductions by parents.
Some people whose former spouses don’t let them see their children in Japan argue that signing the convention doesn’t guarantee their access to children unless dual parental rights are also allowed.
This problem doesn’t only concern foreigners. Japanese parents — fathers in most cases — also can’t see their kids if their ex-spouses say no.
In Japan, those with parental rights have discretion over how often their ex-spouses can see their offspring. Shared parental rights are currently not allowed by the Civil Code because of the cultural belief that a stable environment is considered the most important factor for children. Living with a single parent and minimizing conact with the other is considered a “stable environment” in Japan for children of divored couples.
“I guess it comes from the idea that letting a single parent have parental rights is good because it is simple,” Eda said.
Parents who were victims of abusive relationships are urging the government to keep parental rights to one person and not sign the Hague Convention because, they say, the current legal system protects them from their former spouses.
The Justice Ministry manages the Civil Code, and thus would likely be the source of any bills revising it.
The government may be heading toward signing the Hague Convention. A high-level government panel kicked off discussions Jan. 25 on whether to sign the treaty but has set no time frame for reaching a conclusion. The Cabinet this week, responding to an opposition lawmaker’s question, said it is looking at signing the treaty.
Turning to other developments in the ministry, Eda said officials are studying how other countries deal with making the investigation process by police and prosecutors more transparent.
He said a ministry panel tasked with improving the ethics of prosecutors will offer conclusions in March. The reputation of prosecutors has been tainted by revelations last year that Osaka prosecutors fabricated evidence in the trial of a health ministry official and tried to cover it up.
He also said he thinks married couples should be allowed to have separate surnames, but changing the law now would be difficult.