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Japan: Bar federation's declaration to call for abolition of death sentence

Iwao Hakamada and his sister
Iwao Hakamada and his sister
The Japan Federation of Bar Associations for the 1st time will clearly call for abolishing the death sentence in light of global trends against capital punishment and wrongful convictions of death-row inmates.

The federation until now has taken measures to spur public debate about eliminating the death sentence.

But in a draft declaration that will be submitted to a national human rights protection conference of members in Fukui city in October, the federation will push for reform of Japan's criminal penalty system, including the annulment of the death sentence.

Such conferences are held to decide on how the federation responds to important themes and issues.

Although the draft touches upon the importance of providing support to crime victims, it also states, "Even if a horrible crime has been committed, people can change if they receive the appropriate treatment."

The federation's draft states that the criminal penalty system should not only serve as a retribution against crime, but it should also seek to recover the humanity of the criminals and facilitate their return to society.

Such measures would help to prevent further crimes and lead to greater safety in society, according to the document.

The draft also states that carrying out a death sentence based on a wrongful conviction can never be rectified.

In the 1980s, defendants in four cases who were sentenced to death were given new trials and found innocent because of wrongful convictions.

In 2014, Iwao Hakamada was freed after more than 3 decades on death row after a district court granted him a retrial.

The document goes on to explain that 140 nations have abolished the death sentence or suspended the administration of such penalties.

The federation calls on the Japanese government to introduce life sentences without the possibility of parole and to abolish the death sentence by 2020, when Japan will host a U.N. conference related to criminal justice.

"There is a huge impact in having Japan's largest human rights protection body come out in favor of eliminating the death sentence," said Kana Sasakura, professor of law at Konan University who is knowledgeable about capital punishment. "I hope this will stimulate debate."

Concern for the feelings of bereaved family members of crime victims has been one reason for a cautious approach to ending capital punishment.

In its national conference on human rights protection in 2011, the federation did not go as far as proposing the abolition of the death sentence, but it agreed on a statement urging debate among all members of society on whether Japan should continue with capital punishment.

Source: The Asahi Shimbun, September 5, 2016

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