On Dec. 6 and Dec. 7, Tokyo was host to the International Conference on Human Rights and the Death Penalty, an event jointly organized by the American Bar Association, the Japanese Foundation of Bar Associations (JFBA) and the EU, and attended by representatives of groups from more than 20 countries.
I was there to represent the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty, an organization formed by a large number of Taiwanese interest groups, including the Judicial Reform Foundation, the Taiwan Association for Human Rights and the Taipei Society.
During his address in the closing session, the chairperson of the JFBA made a few comments that left a deep impression on me.
He pointed out that among the democratic, advanced nations today, only the US, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan still have the death penalty.
He also said that some 90 percent of death sentences in the world were meted out by China's judiciary and that we share the burden of guilt for this travesty if we choose to just sit by and do nothing.
I made special note of the fact that he neglected to include Singapore among his list of "democratic" nations, but did include Taiwan.
After the conference finished, the British government, which funded the event, invited our government's envoy from the Ministry of Justice to attend a meeting with the representatives of the other nations, all expenses paid.
The envoy, a soft-spoken prosecutor surnamed Chu, told the meeting in impeccable English that Taiwan's government was sparing no effort in pursuing the abolition of capital punishment.
He told them that the number of death sentences meted out by Taiwanese judges was decreasing every year and that the only death sentence now on the books was being commuted as part of the government's policy to phase out capital punishment.
In other words, we were seeing the gradual fulfillment of one of President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) policy promises: the abolition of capital punishment.
It was a moment to make one proud. But I didn't feel all that elated.
The reason? Taiwanese brothers Lin Meng-kai (
According to newspaper reports, the reason that the Ministry of Justice had allowed this sentence to proceed was because "the Lin brothers failed to show remorse" and "there was in fact no good reason to save their lives."
They added that "this notwithstanding, the Ministry of Justice remains committed to pursuing the abolition of capital punishment."
I feel it necessary to address Minister of Justice Morley Shih (
Minister, if you are really committed to ending the death penalty, you have to understand that capital punishment, whether it is retained or abolished, is not about individual cases.
It represents the degree to which a nation respects human life.
Also, capital punishment has nothing to do with rehabilitating offenders through making them feel remorse as a condition of mercy.
Nor has it proved to be an effective deterrent.
If Shih truly believes punishment has a positive social goal, then I think it is eminently possible to "find a reason to save" the lives of convicts facing the death sentence.
Wu Hao-jen is president of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights.
TRANSLATED BY PAUL COOPER