Will the U.S. Finally End the Death Penalty?

In the past, abolition efforts have faced a backlash—but Gavin Newsom’s moratorium may be different.
The American death penalty is extraordinarily fragile, with death sentences and executions on the decline. Public support for the death penalty has diminished. The practice is increasingly marginalized around the world. California, with its disproportionately large share of American death-row inmates, announces an end to the death penalty. The year? 1972. That’s when the California Supreme Court declared the death penalty inconsistent with the state’s constitutional prohibition of cruel or unusual punishments—only to have the death penalty restored a year later through popular initiative and legislation.
On Wednesday, again, California walked back its commitment to the death penalty. Though not full-fledged abolition, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on capital punishment lasting as long as his tenure in office, insisting that the California death penalty has been an “abject…

Taiwan: President Ma Ying-jeou defends executions

ABOLITION FAR AWAY: The premier said European countries took 100 to 200 years to abolish the death penalty, and said polls show that 75% of Taiwanese support capital punishment

President Ma Ying-jeou yesterday defended the Ministry of Justice’s execution of 5 death row inmates and dismissed concerns that the move violated the International Covenant on Civil Rights.

The executions were carried out on Friday after Minister of Justice Tseng Yung-fu signed documents authorizing them, sparking protests from anti-death penalty activists, who condemned the Ma administration for ignoring the covenants that it had recognized as domestic laws.

Approached by reporters for comment, Ma yesterday simply said: “No” when asked whether the executions violated the covenants.

While Ma declined to say whether the government would suspend executions in the future, Premier Wu Den-yih, at a separate setting yesterday, suggested the death penalty would not be abolished any time soon.

“The executions of capital -punishment were in line with high social expectations and demand for a good public order in a country that respects the rule of law,” he said when approached for a comment on the concerns about the execution voiced by human rights groups.

“In order to stabilize public order and ensure public security, the death penalty should in no way be abolished,” he said.

Saying that “it’s not time to abolish capital punishment,” Wu urged activists in opposition to the use of capital punishment to communicate with the public about abolition of the death penalty and build a consensus on the issue.

Wu added that the government did not violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

“It’s clearly stated in the international human rights covenants that [countries] should refrain from handing down mandatory death penalties except for the most serious crimes,” Wu said.

Although some might feel uncomfortable with the executions, Wu said, all of the people executed were given due process and none of them was wrongfully put to death. Some had even asked for a quick execution, he added.

Wu said that it was also his dream that the death penalty could be ended in the country when the day comes that “everyone has a heart of gold” and that it would make no difference whether capital punishment exists or not.

Saying that it took 100 to 200 years for most European countries to eliminate the death penalty, Wu added that “maybe Taiwan could reach that point in a shorter time, like in several decades or so."

Wu mentioned the results of several polls suggesting that more than 75 % of Taiwan’s people are still against an abolition of the death penalty because the majority do not feel satisfied with the public order.

According to a report released yesterday by the Ministry of Justice that compiled the results of nine public surveys conducted by several different organizations between 1993 and 2008, nearly 80 percent of the respondents opposed abolition of the death penalty.

The groups that carried out the polls include the Justice Ministry, the Cabinet’s Research, Development and Evaluation Commission, Academia Sinica and a poll center operated by the Chinese-language United Daily News.

The report said that over the past 15 years, whenever asked whether they supported the abolition of the death penalty, 70 % to 80 % said no.

Source: Taipei Times, March 5, 2011

Five executions spark concern in EU, Germany

In the face of widespread criticism, the justice minister said that the executed inmates had committed atrocious crimes.

The Ministry of Justice’s execution of 5 death-row inmates on Friday drew concerns and condemnation from the EU and various advocacy groups opposing capital punishment.

In a statement issued following the executions, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton said she deeply regretted the execution and urged Taiwan “not to undertake further executions."

Saying the EU had been encouraged by Taiwan’s de facto moratorium on executions that had been in place from late 2005 until last year, Ashton called on Taiwan to “put in place an immediate de facto moratorium on executions, pending legal abolition."

The executions came less than a year after the ministry resumed the implementation of capital punishment in April last year.

Following the resumption of capital punishment, Taiwan is now once again “one of the very few industrial democracies to implement capital punishment,” Ashton said, adding that the EU considers the abolishing the death penalty a contribution toward the enhancing of human dignity and the progressive development of human rights.

“It’s the EU’s view that the death penalty does not serve as an effective deterrent, and that any miscarriage of justice, which is inevitable in any legal system, would be irreversible,” Ashton said in the statement.

The German government also expressed concerns over the execution, with Taiwanese Representative in Berlin Wei Wu-lien being summoned to the German Federal Foreign Office (AA), according to a press release posted on its Web site.

Marcus Loening, the German Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the AA, said in the statement: “I strongly condemned the executions."

Loening said he has always regarded Taiwan as a positive example of democracy and rule of law, but the worst thing emanating from the execution was that Taiwan sent a very negative signal.

“Against this background, today the head of the Taipei Representative Office in Berlin has been summoned to the Foreign Office,” the statement said.

James Lee, director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Department of European Affairs, declined to confirm or deny that he had been summoned to meet with German officials.

“That European countries raised concern following the execution was understandable as it has been their wish that Taiwan could restore a moratorium. We have maintained contact with them about our difference of opinion on the issue,” Lee said.

Lee did not elaborate what messages the AA has conveyed to Taiwan via the meeting with Wei.

Lee said Taiwan has been trying to make European countries understand that the executions were carried out according to the law, as Taiwan followed the rule of law.

As Taiwan is a country that respects human rights, it has been working toward reducing the use of capital punishment before a consensus is reached on revising the laws to eliminate the death penalty, he added.

Minister of Justice Tseng Yung-fu said on Friday that the latest executions were of people “who had committed atrocious crimes and who had killed between 3 and 5 people."

He added that the 5 people executed had exhausted all possible legal avenues and “there were no reasons not to execute them. We had to deal with them according to the law."

Unconvinced, Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director, said in a statement that “the Taiwanese authorities have repeatedly stated their intention to abolish the death penalty. But they have — yet again — acted contrary to their own commitments and against the global trend towards abolition of the death penalty."

He said President Ma Ying-jeou’s administration had apparently not learned the right lesson from the execution of Chiang Kuo-ching in 1997.

Serving in the air force at the time, Chiang was accused of raping and murdering a girl and was soon executed. It was discovered last month that Chiang was actually innocent and that he had admitted to the crime under torture.

Only last month, Ma had to apologize for the execution of an innocent man, the statement said.

Following that so closely with today’s executions, however, shows a blatant disregard for the fallibility and irreversibility of the death penalty,” the statement, said, condemning Taiwan for failure to provide a “procedure that would allow people under sentence of death to seek pardon or commutation of the sentence — a right recognized by [the] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [ICCPR], which Taiwan has legally committed to implement."

The Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network, a cross-regional alliance of non-governmental organizations, lawyers and human rights activists from 23 countries, also released a statement expressing their regrets upon hearing about the latest executions.

Questionable legality

Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty executive director Lin Hsin-yi said that since the ICCPR already enjoys the status of a domestic law, the legality of the executions may be called into question.

She said several other human rights organizations around the world — including the Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights and the International Commission against the Death Penalty — have contacted her to express their concerns and regrets and that many of them will likely release their own statements condemning the executions after gathering more information about the cases.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Wu Yu-sheng, who is known for his support of the death penalty, on the other hand, described the executions as “belated justice."

He said he understood the dilemma of the government because of international pressure and the backlash from local civic groups, but said that if the government does not carry out executions, it will leave a bad impression on society and that it will not be fair for those on death row.

Wu expressed hope that the ministry would continue to execute death-row inmates and “complete the execution of all inmates this year."


Entertainer Pai Ping-ping, whose daughter was murdered in 1997, said: “It is a good thing to execute them, because it helps to solve a lot of problems.”

“Isn’t it good for the government to save the money used to incarcerate them to take care of the underprivileged?” Pai asked.

After the latest executions, 40 convicts remain on death row, according to the official tallies.

Source: Taipei Times, March 5, 2011

Taiwan: 5 death-row convicts executed

5 convicts on death row were executed in Taiwan Friday, the Ministry of Justice said in a statement, potentially dealing the country's international human rights image a severe blow.

The executions came less than a year after the ministry resumed enforcing capital punishment verdicts last April after ending an unofficial moratorium on the execution of death-row inmates that had existed since 2005.

The resumption of the practice was widely criticized by the international community, including by Amnesty International and the European Union.

According to the MOJ statement, the 5 death-row inmates were executed Friday evening after Minister of Justice Tseng Yung-fu signed their execution decrees earlier in the day.

The 5 inmates were identified as Guang Chung-yen, Wang Kuo-hua, Chung Teh-shu, Wang Chih-huang and Chuang Tien-chu, the statement said.

After Friday's executions, there remained 40 convicts on death row, according to official tallies.

The death penalty was last carried out in Taiwan on April 30, 2010, when 4 death row inmates were executed.

Source: Focus Taiwan TV, March 4, 2011

Taiwan executes murderers amid death penalty debate

5 convicted murderers have been executed in Taiwan amid a growing national debate on whether to abolish the death penalty.

The government, along with religious and human rights groups, opposes capital punishment but most victims' families are in favour of it.

Surveys show most of the population also support the death penalty.

Taiwan's government adopted an informal moratorium on executions in 2005, but dropped it following an outcry.

In the 1980s and 1990s Taiwan put to death 505 criminals - a figure which dropped to 36 over the past decade.

Instead, judges were given the ability to sentence violent criminals to life in prison.

But last year, Taiwanese justice minister Wang Ching-feng was forced to resign following an outcry from victims' families when she tried to insist on extending the informal moratorium on the death penalty.

4 convicts were executed, bringing the moratorium to an end.

On Friday, the new justice minister signed the execution orders for another 5.

40 more convicts remain on death row. An official in the justice ministry told the BBC that although the government wants to eventually end the practice, it must first win over the public.

To that end it is increasingly involving victims' families in the trial process. By allowing them to vent their anger at the murderers, and allowing them to hear the background of those convicted, the hatred of some families is reduced.

The hope is that, in time, people will learn to respect all human lives, even those of murderers.

But it is not a simple matter.

1 of the 5 men executed on Friday - a rapist and murderer - had been on death row for 10 years.

He had pleaded to be executed, saying it was a waste of taxpayers' money to keep him alive.

Source: BBC News, March 4, 2011

Government backs enforcing death sentences in line with law

The government must enforce capital punishment verdicts in accordance with the law as Taiwan is a country that upholds the rule of law, Presidential Office spokesman Lo Chih-chiang said Friday.

Lo was reacting to the Ministry of Justice's (MOJ's) confirmation that 5 inmates on death row had been executed earlier in the day, potentially dealing the country's human rights image a severe blow in the international community.

The executions came less than a year after the ministry resumed enforcing death sentences in April 2010, when it ended an unofficial moratorium on the execution of death-row inmates that had existed since 2005.

The resumption of the practice was widely criticized by the international community, including by Amnesty International and the European Union.

Lo acknowledged that abolishing capital punishment is a prevailing trend in many countries around the world, but he said most Taiwanese people have yet to reach a consensus on the issue.

With the public divided on whether the death penalty should be abolished, Lo said, it will take time to forge a consensus through rational discussion.

"And until capital punishment is formally abolished, legally meted out death sentences must be enforced in accordance with the law. Otherwise, there should be justifiable reasons to defer enforcement of those verdicts," Lo said.

On criticism that the latest executions seemed to contradict President Ma Ying-jeou's previous pledge to reduce the use of capital punishment, Lo said Ma's stance has remained consistent since his stint as justice minister more than a decade ago.

"Reducing the use of capital punishment is one thing. Imposing a moratorium on legally issued death penalty verdicts is another, " Lo said.

In line with the policy of limiting the use of capital punishment, Lo said Taiwan has invalidated legal provisions that mandated the death sentence as the only penalty for specific crimes.

According to the MOJ statement, the 5-death row inmates were executed Friday evening after Minister of Justice Tseng Yung-fu signed their execution decrees earlier in the day.

The 5 inmates were identified as Guang Chung-yen, Wang Kuo-hua, Chung Teh-shu, Wang Chih-huang and Chuang Tien-chu, the statement said.

3 of them -- Wang, Chuang and Guang -- signed pledges to donate their organs before their executions.

Their bodies were sent to Kaohsiung Chang Gung Memorial Hospital in Kaohsiung City and Far Eastern Memorial Hospital in New Taipei City to have their organs removed for transplant to suitable patients, the statement said.

After Friday's executions, there remained 40 convicts on death row, according to official tallies.

The death penalty was last carried out in Taiwan on April 30, 2010, when 4 death row inmates were executed. They were the 1st executions since 2005.

The lack of executions since 2005 drew attention early last year when then Justice Minister Wang Ching-feng, who opposed capital punishment, insisted on stays of execution for death row inmates.

Wang resigned on March 11, 2010 following an outcry from victims of violent crime and their families. Tseng, who succeeded Wang to the position, has promised to carry out the death penalty according to the law.

Tseng apologized Friday evening for failing to tell the truth earlier in the day that he had signed the decrees in the morning to execute the 5 inmates.

"I had to withhold the information until after they were executed, " Tseng told reporters after attending a Legislative Yuan session in the evening.

He said all of the 5 executed inmates had been involved in felonies, including serial rapes and killings, and that their cases had long been closed.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel, March 4, 2011
Use the tags below or the search engine at the top of this page to find updates, older or related articles on this Website.

Most Viewed (Last 7 Days)

Singapore executes Michael Garing

Alabama: Tuscaloosa County jury recommends death penalty in capital murder case

Eyewitness to execution: The Sacramento Bee’s coverage of 1992 gas chamber execution

Colorado’s death penalty repeal in holding pattern. Vote margin appears close.

“Texas 7” Member Contests “Law of Parties”

Singapore: Harvesting organs from death row "donors"

Assemblymember Levine Introduces Constitutional Amendment to Abolish California’s Death Penalty

Brunei to pass law that will punish gay sex with death by stoning

Despite Possible Innocence and Intellectual Disability, Alabama Intends to Execute Rocky Myers

A Letter from Sister Helen Prejean to Governor Gavin Newsom