In an apparent deviation from what was understood as the President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration’s stance of abolishing capital punishment, Minister of Foreign Affairs David Lin (林永樂) said yesterday that the government “never promised to end the death penalty.”
“We have never made such a promise. We have been very cautious about the issue. Over the years, the number of death sentences imposed has fallen, and so has the number of death row inmates executed,” Lin told the Taipei Times in a telephone interview.
The Ministry of Justice on Friday night executed six convicts, the third round of executions since the Ma administration ended a four-year-long moratorium on the death penalty in April 2010 by executing four prisoners that year and another five in March last year.
The executions incurred strong criticism, with the EU, international human rights organizations and activists saying they breached promises that Taiwan would work toward abolishing capital punishment.
Since taking office in May 2008, Ma has on several occasions said that his administration aimed to move toward eventually abolishing the death penalty.
In an open letter to Ma on March 18, 2010, Amnesty International (AI) said that Ma gave his assurance that the “de facto moratorium would remain in place” at a meeting with AI and other groups at the Presidential Office on June 18, 2008.
Amid debate sparked by former minister of justice Wang Ching-feng’s (王清峰) support for a moratorium on executions and her subsequent resignation in early March 2010, AI wrote the open letter to Ma to ask him “to ensure that Taiwan remains firm in reaching for its stated goal of abolition of the death penalty.”
When receiving members of the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty at the Presidential Office on June 15, 2010, Ma said the Republic of China (ROC) aimed to realize a long-term goal to end the death penalty.
Ma said at that time that the goal was stipulated in the two UN human rights covenants — the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights — which Ma ratified in May 2009. The legislature enacted an implementation law for their domestic application later that year.
However, Lin said that abolishing capital punishment was “never a promise” that the government had made to the international community, but “a direction we continue to work toward and a goal we hope we can fulfill sometime in the future.”
“At the moment, we are not able to end the death penalty because there has been a lack of public consensus on the issue. The government is also obligated to carry out executions in accordance with the law, since Taiwan still has the sentence on the books,” he said.
Lin said his ministry would continue to communicate with the EU and international friends to explain “persistently and patiently” to them the situation in Taiwan.
“The ROC is a country that highly values human rights and the rule of law. We have been working to ensure implementation of the two UN human rights covenants in our daily work,” he said.
At a separate setting yesterday, Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) said the government “fully understands” the arguments against the death penalty, but “the polls show that people in Taiwan still have some reservations toward abolition of the sentence.”
“There are still quite a few countries that retain capital punishment, for example, the US, the world’s largest national economy. Differences in social background and cultural values in each country should be factored into policy on the death penalty,” Chen said.
Chen said the government would take the issue of abolition of the death penalty seriously since Taiwan has made the two UN covenants legally binding.
Control Yuan President Wang Chien-shien, meanwhile, praised the government for carrying out the executions in defiance of international pressure.
“I disagreed with arguments proposed by anti-death penalty activists. The executions reflect justice. Taiwan is a sovereign independent nation and has its own standards of human rights. There is no need for us to blindly force ourselves to follow global trends,” Wang said.