Japan – Human Rights Council – Death Penalty – March 2017

 

The Advocates for Human Rights, in collaboration with the Center for Prisoners’ Rights and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, submitted a joint stakeholder report on the death penalty in Japan to the UN Human Rights Council for Japan’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR). This submission addresses Japan’s international human rights obligations regarding the death penalty and the treatment of prisoners on death row.

Despite recommendations by several countries during Japan’s last UPR to abolish the death penalty or establish a moratorium on its use, Japan still maintains the death penalty as a possible punishment for a total of 19 crimes. Moreover, since Japan’s last UPR in 2012, the number of persons sentenced to death and executed in Japan has increased. Japan’s Penal Code does not limit the death penalty to the most serious crimes, as international human rights standards require. It authorizes the imposition of the death penalty for crimes that do not result in death and in cases where the defendant did not intend to kill.

Several defects in Japan’s legal system allow for the possibility of wrongful convictions and thereby wrongful executions. Japan’s pretrial detention and interrogation system may result in false confessions. Additionally, the lack of a mandatory appeal system in capital cases prevents meaningful review of death penalty sentences.

Lastly, Japan’s treatment of prisoners sentenced to death violates international norms and constitutes cruel and unusual treatment. The laws and practices on detention facilities and the treatment of inmates do not comply with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. Prisons keep death row inmates in indefinite solitary confinement, and also restrict prisoners’ access to outside information and human contact. Prison authorities also routinely monitor visits and communications.

This joint stakeholder submission suggests recommendations for the Government of Japan, including the need to:

  • Abolish the death penalty and replace it with a sentence that is fair, proportionate, and respects international human rights standards; 
  • Impose an official moratorium on the death penalty immediately; 
  • Ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty; 
  • Amend the Penal Code to limit the death penalty to crimes resulting in death in which the defendant had the intent to kill; 
  • Introduce a mandatory appeal system in capital cases; and 
  • Amend its law on detention facilities and treatment of inmates to comply with the revised Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.