Justice Issues...

Death Penalty

"I came out of the execution chamber dazed, shaken. We had imitated the worst possible violence and put it in a protocol, legalised it, killed someone who had killed others in an impossible moral contradiction of trying to teach our children that killing is wrong. And I came out and all I knew was I must find a way to tell this story so that we can change this in our society and we will do this no more to human beings"

By Sr. Helen Prejean
who was the pen-pal of a death row inmate and accompanied him to execution
(Source: Social and Pastoral Bulletin, No.101, Apr 15, 2001)

Why should Death Penalty be Abolished?

The Global Efforts

In the Asia-Pacific: Progress or Retrogress?

Online Resources

Why should Death Penalty be Abolished?
  • Death penalty is contradictory to the concept of human rights. While the state prohibits people from killing by the implementation of law, it deprives people of the right to life by the use of death penalty.
  • Death penalty has not been shown to have special power to deter from committing crimes. The most recent survey of research findings on the relation between death penalty and homicide rates, conducted for the United Nations in 1988 and revised in 1996, concluded that "Research has failed to provide scientific proof that executions have a greater deterrent effect than life imprisonment and such proof is unlikely to be forthcoming. The evidence as a whole still gives no positive support to the deterrent hypothesis...".
  • Death penalty is discriminatory. The poor and the disadvantaged, who do not have the capacity to search for evidence that would indicate their innocence, and who have less access to competent and experienced lawyers, are the most likely victims.
  • Death penalty can be misused by the authority as a tool of oppression.
  • Death penalty which is irreversible always involves the risk of executing the innocent.

Justice & Peace Newsletter, March 2002,
Christian Worker, 3rd & 4th Qrs 2000 (April 2001)

The Global Efforts
1966   The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in its Article 6 emphasised again the right to life to every human being. For countries which have not abolished the death penalty, executions were constrained by legal safeguards to prevent abuse and protect the rights of death convicts.
1989   The Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Aiming at the Abolition of the Death Penalty was adopted by the UN General Assembly. It provided for the total abolition of the death penalty but allowed states parties to retain the death penalty in time of war, if they made a reservation to that effect at the time of ratifying or acceding to the Protocol. Any state which is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights can become a party to the Protocol.
1991   The Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR was entered into force on 11 July.
1998   The Commission on Human Rights called on states that still maintained the punishment "to establish a moratorium on executions, with a view to completely abolishing the death penalty" (Resolution 1998/8 of 3 April 1998).
2000   Human Rights Commission of the UN in April reiterated its call on all States to consider ratifying the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, and has meanwhile called for a worldwide moratorium on executions.
In the Asia-Pacific: Progress or Retrogress?

According to the Amnesty International, around the world there were at least 3,048 people being executed in 31 countries during 2001; at least 5,265 people were sentenced to death in 68 countries. These figures include only cases known to Amnesty International; the true figures were certainly higher. The vast majority of executions were carried out in a tiny handful of countries. In 2001, 90 per cent of all known executions took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the USA. Below is an overview of the Asia-Pacific:

Death Penalty
Death Penalty in 2001
Carrying out
Executions in 2001
Australia ++    
Bangladesh   ++ ++
Burma   ++  
East Timor ++    
India   ++  
Indonesia   ++ ++
Japan   ++ ++
Malaysia   ++ ++
Mongolia   ++  
Nepal ++    
New Zealand ++    
North Korea   ++ ++
Pakistan   ++ ++
People's Republic of China   ++ ++
Philippines   ++  
Singapore   ++ ++
Sri Lanka   ++  
South Korea  


Taiwan   ++ ++
Thailand   ++ ++
Vietnam   ++ ++

Japan - Strong Public Support for Death Penalty

623 people were executed since the World War II, many of them in the chaotic aftermath of the war. There were three in 2000 and five in 1999.

The most recent survey done in 1999 found about eighty per cent of Japanese were in favour of capital punishment. Such strong support for death penalty is bolstered by certain serious crimes in the past few years. Many Japanese appeared to favour the classic argument that it is a deterrent to crime.

People's Republic of China - The Most Frequent Executor

Death Penalty as part of the ''Strike Hard'' campaign is considered an effective way to control the crime rate. Since most cases are investigated and heard in the court in a very fast pace, there is high possibility of misjudgement and executing the innocent.

With limited and incomplete records available, Amnesty International had recorded 4,015 death sentences and 2,468 executions in 2001. Between April and July 2001 at least 1,781 people were executed; this total is more than the number of known executions during the last three years in the rest of the world combined. It is believed that the real figures are much higher.

Philippines - Attempts to Resume Executions

The Philippines was the first country in Asia to abolish Death Penalty in 1987.

In February 1999, however, executions was resumed with seven convicts being executed. On the International Human Rights Day of 2000, the then President Joseph Estrada announced the amnesty of 110 death convicts and declared a moratorium to mark the Christian Jubilee year. Following an upsurge in kidnappings with many of the victims being affluent Filipino Chinese or Christian missionaries, the Death Penalty was reinstated first on kidnappers. In October 2001 President Arroyo announced that over 90 convicts of kidnapping would be executed as soon as the Supreme Court confirmed their sentences. She also announced that she wished to revoke the commutation of the death sentences of six people convicted of kidnapping. No executions had been carried out by the end of 2001.

South Korea (Republic of Korea) - Initiative to Abolish Death Penalty

Since President Kim Dae-jung, who himself was sentenced to death under the military-led government in the 1980s, took office in February 1998, there are reports of over 70 prisoners under sentence of death, but no execution has been carried out.

In 1999 the ruling Millennium Democratic Party submitted a bill to abolish the death penalty, but it was not addressed before the term of National Assembly ended. On 30 October 2001, 155 members of both the ruling and opposition parties of the South Korean Congress sponsored a similar bill to abolish the death penalty.

A recent nationwide survey published by Chosun Ilbo and Mbizon (a mobile research institute) on 4 November, indicated that the number of South Koreans against the death penalty is growing. Thirty-six per cent of the poll opposed capital punishment, compared with 34 per cent in 1999 and 20 per cent in 1994.

Taiwan - Plan to Abolish Death Penalty

According to the Justice Ministry, 17 criminals was executed in 2000, 24 in 1999 and 32 in 1998. On 17 May 2001, the Justice Minister mentioned his plan to abolish the death sentence within three years as a response to repeated appeals by international human rights groups.

Online Resources

Amnesty International
in its Website Against the Death Penalty provides background information, updated facts and figures, and the recent development of Death Penalty in different countries.

Community of Sant'Egidio
with its international Campaign "NO to the Death Penalty" provides news, cases and suggestions on different ways to work against Death Penalty.