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Japan executes three death row prisoners

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Japan hanged three murder convicts on 7 December, their names publicly disclosed for the first time. Civil society organisations and UN officials have condemned the country’s policy, which executed nine people in total this year, the highest number since 1977.
(Bangkok, 15 December 2007) Japan hanged three murder convicts on 7 December, disclosing their names publicly for the first time. Nine convicts were executed in total in Japan this year, the highest number since 1977. Civil society organisations and UN officials condemned the Japanese government for these executions, which were carried out amid an intense debate at the UN on a proposed resolution for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty.

The Justice Ministry of Japan said in a statement that Seiha Fujima, 47, and Hiroki Fukawa, 42 were executed in Tokyo, and Noboru Ikemoto, 75, in Osaka.  The executions took place without advance notice to the convicts nor their families, a common occurrence in the country.

“This practice is problematic under international law, and I call on Japan to reconsider its approach in this regard”, Louise Arbour, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said on 7 December. Commenting on the oldest inmate executed, she added, “It is difficult to see what legitimate purpose is served by carrying out such executions of the elderly, and at the very least on humanitarian grounds”.

The executions violate the spirit and intent of the proposed UN resolution that has been approved by the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly (GA) in November and is expected to be voted upon by the GA this month. Amnesty International expressed in a statement on 8 December that “this action runs counter to the universal protection of human rights and comes at a time when there is a clear international trend away from the use of the death penalty”.

On 15 November 2007, the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly voted to support a resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty all over the world. The resolution was adopted by 99 countries in favour and will be before the full 192-member General Assembly for a vote this month.

Until 1998, the only information available on executions in Japan was annual statistical data by the Justice Ministry. This is the first time the ministry disclosed the details of executions. The ministry announced that this new policy is to have more support for death penalty from the Japanese citizens, of which 81.4% reportedly favour the death penalty, according to a poll by the Cabinet Office in 2004. There are now 104 people on death row in the country.

Japan is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which obligates state parties to ensure strict safeguards when applying the death penalty. Although the code of criminal procedure of the country provides that the Justice Minister should, in principle, approve the execution within six months after the ruling, the period is longer in practice. Seiken Sugiura, who was the minister for 11 months since October 2005, did not approve any execution during his term. On the other hand, Kunio Hatoyama, the current Justice Minister, mentioned in September that he’d like to develop a system to carry out executions without the approval by the minister.