LONDON - Human rights group Amnesty International slammed Japan on Wednesday for resuming the use of capital punishment last year after a 20-month gap between executions.
The previous, Democratic Party of Japan-led government resumed the use of capital punishment in March 2012, executing 10 people since then. The last executions took place in February following the December election the new Liberal Democratic Party-led government.
“The resumption was shocking because it was introduced by the former government which had, at one point, a justice minister in favor of abolishing the death penalty,” Amnesty campaigner Chiara Sangiorgio said in London.
Speaking at the launch of the human rights group’s annual publication of death penalty statistics, Sangiorgio said it was “possible to draw a link” between the resumption of executions in 2012 and the need for the governing party at the time to do well in the December poll.
Sangiorgio said it was a worrying trend that the LDP-led government was following the same policy, carrying out three executions in February.
She said Amnesty doubted the validity of opinion polls that show a majority of Japanese favor the death penalty, arguing that the polls are often rigged in order to produce support for maintaining the status quo.
“It’s true that people want to be protected from crime and heinous murder . . . but the government has a duty to protect the right to life of criminals as well,” Sangiorgio said.
“Japan really wants to portray itself as a leading democracy worldwide but that is unsustainable without considering the protection of human rights.
“It is important that Japan leads Asia in the right direction,” she said. “When Japan did not carry out executions, the United States was the only member of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations which was left carrying out executions.”
In the Asia-Pacific region, eight nations carried out 38 reported executions in 2012, according to Amnesty.
China allegedly executed “thousands” but the rights group was unable to provide an accurate figure given the “secrecy” surrounding the practice.
In the same region, a total of 679 new death sentences were imposed in 19 countries last year.
Worldwide, 21 countries were recorded as having carried out executions in 2012, the same number as in 2011.
At least 682 executions were known to have been carried out, two more than in 2011. At least 1,722 newly imposed death sentences in 58 countries could be confirmed, compared to 1,923 in 63 countries the year before.
The top five countries that executed the most were China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the United States.
“Only 1 in 10 countries in the world carries out executions,” said Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International. “Their leaders should ask themselves why they are still applying a cruel and inhumane punishment that the rest of the world is leaving behind.”
The group claims the death penalty is “the ultimate denial of human rights” and claims that it “stains justice systems.”
Amnesty says there is no evidence to support the claim that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to serious crimes.