Amnesty International urges abolition of death penalty

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  Staff Reporter

Sat, May 14, 2011 - Page 3

International human rights organizations have again urged Taiwan to abolish the death penalty, while the government responded as usual by saying that there remained a lack of consensus on the issue among Taiwanese.

Amnesty International in London yesterday released its annual report, The State of the World’s Human Rights 2011, in which Taiwan was criticized over issues to do with the death penalty, freedom of expression, justice and migrants’ rights.

Amnesty International deputy director for the Asia-Pacific Catherine Baber was quoted by Central News Agency as calling it a major step backward that Taiwan carried out executions after having practiced a four-year de facto moratorium on executions since 2005.

In Taipei, Executive Yuan spokesman Philip Yang (楊永明) said adopting a top-down approach to the abolition could cause more controversy.

The government will uphold existing laws to carry out death sentences handed down by courts while simultaneously hoping that a thorough discussion would result in a consensus on the issue, Yang said.

Taiwan executed four death row inmates on April 30 last year, the first time the death penalty had been carried out since December 2005, followed by executions of another five inmates 11 months later on March 4, despite the resumption inciting criticism from many human rights groups at home and abroad.

“There is indeed a high level of disagreement on the issue. Some people favor ending the death penalty out of concern for human rights, but some people say we should keep it as a deterrent to committing a crime,” he said.

Yang said whether the abolition of capital punishment is symbolic of human rights or of a advanced country is open to debate because the death penalty is still used in countries such as the US, Japan and South Korea.

In response to Philip Yang, Amnesty International Taiwan deputy secretary-general Yang Tsung-li (楊宗澧) criticized the government, saying it used a lack of public consensus as an excuse to uphold capital punishment.

President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration in the past three years has done nothing to encourage the abolition of the death penalty, apart from holding four public hearings on the issue last year, Yang Tsung-li said.

The executions last year were carried out one day after a hearing on the issue, and the executions in March came less than one month after Ma offered an apology to the family of Chiang Kuo-ching (江國慶), who was found to have been wrongfully executed by the military 14 years ago over the rape and murder of a girl, Yang Tsung-li said.

All this showed that Ma’s promise to abolish the death penalty was just empty words, he said.

The report also criticized Taiwan’s government for what it said was its failure to deliver on promises to amend the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法) that limits citizens’ rights to assembly and free speech.

It also voiced concerns over the slow progress to enact a judges’ act to address corruption scandals involving high court judges and over the working conditions of migrant workers.