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Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012

Norwegian politician decries Japanese executions


NEW YORK — Japan's execution last week of two inmates, the third round of hangings this year, reminded global leaders gathered at the United Nations that much work remains to be done before the goal of eliminating the death penalty is realized, Norway's state secretary for foreign affairs said.

News photo
Gry Larsen

Gry Larsen was taking part in the launch of the International Campaign to Abolish the Death Penalty at the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 27 when news started to filter through that two convicted murderers had been hanged in Sendai and Fukuoka, less than two months since another two Japanese prisoners were hanged Aug. 3.

"Every time I get the news that death sentences have been carried out I think it is inhumane," said Larsen, who lost both friends and associates when an ultranationalist gunman attacked a summer youth camp organized by the youth league of Norway's Labor Party last year.

"I think it is brutal, but at the same time, for me as a politician, it is just a reminder that this happens and it is also a reminder that we need to continue to work against the death penalty," she said of last week's executions.

Sachiko Eto, 65, a faith healer and cult leader who murdered six of her followers between 1994 and 1995 in Fukushima Prefecture, and Yukinori Matsuda, 39, who stabbing to death a couple in Kumamoto Prefecture in 2003 were both executed Sept. 27.

Japan is one of the 58 countries and territories that maintain the death penalty, according to Amnesty International, although the movement to abolish capital punishment is spreading and 140 countries have abandoned it either legally or in practice.

"We know that people are getting killed every day and that is why it is important for us to gather and talk about this, but . . . no matter when, no matter where, we oppose the death penalty," said Larsen, a former leader of the Labor Party's Workers' Youth League.

"It is wrong for Japan to use the death penalty and we want Japan to stop using it, to take it away from criminal law," said Larsen, emphasizing her objections on moral, political and judicial grounds.

In addition to being an irreversible action that has led to wrongful deaths around the world, Larsen believes capital punishment violates the concept that the "most important human right is the right to life" and also fails to deter criminals.

On the way Japan conducts executions, she said, "Japan has one practice that I believe is very inhumane, that is telling the victims (they're headed to the gallows only on) the same day and telling the families after (they have been executed)."

Concerning her own experiences of last summer's youth camp slaughter, she said of the extremist who confessed to the killing spree, Anders Behring Breivik, "He killed many of my friends, but I have never once thought that he should get the death penalty."

She stressed how Norway pulled together as a society to ensure a similar atrocity "is not going to happen again," rather than calling for his death.

A leader of human rights dialogues in numerous countries around the world, Larsen campaigns in Asian countries such as China, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Although she has never traveled to Japan, she is vocal about her desire to speak with as many representatives as possible from countries that still execute criminals to push for moratoriums and reductions in the number of crimes punishable by death.

She is buoyed by the global trend away from executions and is positive that "in the end, all countries will abolish the death penalty."

"So what Japan needs to ask itself is: Is it going to be one of the last countries in the world to put a moratorium on the death penalty?"

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