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Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2007

Death penalty foes await U.N. moratorium vote


Staff writer

Human rights activists renewed on Monday their call to abolish capital punishment as the United Nations gets ready to vote on a resolution calling on member states to declare a moratorium on executions.

Tuesday's vote will be the first by the U.N. General Assembly on a resolution against the death penalty, human rights lawyer Maiko Tagusari told a news conference, adding the outlook for adoption is positive.

"The situation of the world has changed drastically in the past 10 years or so," with more and more countries abolishing the death penalty, Tagusari said. "The resolution may not be binding, but Japan and other countries opposed to the resolution . . . must strongly recognize that the situation has greatly changed and I think the Japanese people themselves also need to realize that."

The resolution calls for U.N. member states to "progressively restrict the use of the death penalty and reduce the number of offenses for which it may be imposed," and to "establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty."

Sakae Menda, a 76-year-old former inmate who was wrongfully convicted of murder and served 34 1/2 years on death row, said he will dedicate the rest of his life to abolishing capital punishment.

"The death penalty is a system in which a person hands judgment on another and takes one's life in the name of the law," Menda said after the news conference. "I don't think it is too much to say that I was a victim (of the legal system) . . . I hope that (the U.N. resolution) will be able to open a new door" for Japan to move toward abolishing capital punishment.

Earlier this month, three inmates were hanged with the approval of Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama. But for the first time, the ministry released the names of the convicts, their crimes and where the executions were held.

"Japan disclosed the names of the executed, but that is not what the international society is demanding," Tagusari said during Monday's news conference. "Transparency over the executions . . . is only natural. We are at a time when we must hold thorough discussions over the existence of the death penalty, with an aim to suspending and abolishing (capital punishment) altogether — that is what the international society wants."

Last month, the U.N. General Assembly's Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Third Committee adopted the draft resolution with 99 countries in favor.



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