Activists against capital punishment and legal experts from over 10 countries gathered at an international conference in Taipei over the weekend to discuss Taiwan’s progress in putting an end to the death penalty.
Organized by the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty, the two-day symposium held at National Taiwan University is to be followed by three follow-on forums scheduled for today in Greater Taichung, Greater Tainan and Greater Kaohsiung.
By continuing to implement capital punishment, the government has violated two UN covenants that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) signed into law in 2009, the group said, referring to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The execution of five prisoners in April further alienated the nation from global human rights standards, the group said.
In contrast, although South Korea still has the death penalty, in effect a moratorium has been in practice for the past 16 years, with the last state-sanctioned execution carried out in 1997.
Andrew Kim Duck-jin, secretary-general of the Seoul-based Catholic Human Rights Committee, said on Saturday that efforts to legally abolish the death penalty in South Korea face resistance from the public, which is largely in favor of retaining it.
“Although a draft bill to abolish capital punishment was proposed in parliament, the bill never made it to the plenary session to a plenary vote, as there is still a huge amount of opposition from the public,” Kim said.
“Every year three to four people are sentenced to death by [South] Korean courts. The number of death sentences has even increased,” said Kim, adding that legal experts in South Korea are still discussing alternatives modes of punishment to the death penalty, such as imprisonment for life.
The moratorium was first enacted when former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung was in office, who had at one time been sentenced to death as a political prisoner when the nation was governed by an authoritarian regime.
National Taipei University criminology professor Chou Susyan (周愫嫻) said despite results of surveys indicating overwhelming support for the death penalty among Taiwanese, there is still room for discussion.
“When you present the public with a concrete alternative, it is certainly possible to change public opinion,” Chou said.
After a temporary moratorium from 2006 to 2009, Taiwan reimplemented capital punishment in 2010, with four to six executions carried out each year.
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