President. – The next item is the debate on six motions for resolutions(1) on the death penalty in Japan.
Cristian Dan Preda, author. – (RO) Mr President, I begin by saying that I regret what happened in the voting session at noon. I proposed then to remove the sentence relating to Japan from the resolution on the 19th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The reason was that we are debating and voting now on a joint resolution on the death penalty in this country and I believe this is much more subtle and nuanced than the punishment that remained in the text of the resolution mentioned.
In principle, I believe we can say the following: Japan is one of the EU’s closest partners and, obviously, if this country abolishes the death penalty, its gesture would influence, to a great extent, the other nations that still use this terrible instrument. On the other hand, if Japan is not prepared to abolish it now, I think it is wiser, on the one hand, to continue the public debate started in 2010, and, on the other hand, to continue or replicate a moratorium on executions that existed a decade ago in this country.
David Martin, author. – Mr President, this debate is inspired by the fact that the new Justice Minister in Japan has indicated that he intends to end the moratorium on the use of the death penalty and to resume executions in Japan.
I agree with the previous speaker that the European Union and Japan have close and strong relations; we are partners in many areas of development and in the world, and we speak to the Japanese in this case as friends. We say to them that as a European Union, we can never support the use of the death penalty. In modern Japan, the death penalty has no place. We very much welcome the fact that there have been no executions in Japan since July 2010. I consider it real progress if Japan moves towards abolition. That is why the Minister’s statement was so disappointing.
I would hope that the Japanese Government will continue the work they have begun, with a study group in the Ministry of Justice which is examining the death penalty, and I hope they will listen to the strong abolitionist movement which exists in that country. There is no place in any modern state to take the lives of its own citizens. I urge Japan to consider abolishing the death penalty as soon as possible.
Keith Taylor, author. – Mr President, the end of the death penalty has been achieved in 96 countries across the world and only 23 countries actually carried out executions in 2010. To see any reduction in the numbers of legal killings is encouraging, but hearing about the possibility that executions in Japan will restart under a new Minister of Justice is a matter of great disappointment, both for me and for my political group, the Greens, who are completely opposed to the death penalty.
According to reports from Amnesty and the UN Committee on Torture, most of those people sentenced to death in Japan have given confessions under extreme duress. That duress could include physical abuse or sleep deprivation or denial of food and water and the use of a toilet and not being told of the date of their execution until the day itself arrives.
But the death penalty is not fail-safe. You cannot acquit someone if they have already been killed. So I think the death penalty is abhorrent and cruel; it degrades both Japanese society and morality and it further punishes the prisoners’ families, who are innocent of any crime.
So please join us in voting for a moratorium and the reactivation of the Japanese study group to stop death penalties.
Paul Murphy, author. – Mr President, let me start with a quote from the French writer and activist Victor Hugo, who summed up the hypocrisy and barbarity of the death sentence when he said, ‘You hold up capital punishment as an example. Why? Because of what it teaches. And just what is it that you wish to teach by means of this example? That thou shalt not kill. And how do you teach that thou shalt not kill? By killing’.
It is a disgrace that the death penalty still exists in Japan, and it is a disgrace that the new Minister of Justice has announced that he does not want to continue the policy of caution of his predecessor and will, potentially, sign new execution orders. The barbarity of the situation in Japan is increased by the fact that, in many cases, prisoners and their legal representatives are not informed of the execution until the day that it takes place, and their family members are not informed until the execution has already taken place, meaning that they cannot say a last goodbye to their loved ones.
From 2000 to 2009, Japan sentenced 112 people to death and executed 46, and there are currently 130 people on death row in Japan. Those convicted are kept in solitary confinement and wait an average of more than seven years – sometimes decades – in toilet-sized cells. Executions are carried out at advanced ages and despite signs of mental illness.
Japan also has a 99% conviction rate, a figure which, critics say, is attributed to the use of forced confessions. In 2010, a number of other convictions – not death sentences – were overturned as a result of these coming out. Obviously, that cannot happen in the case of the death penalty. I think it is essential that we call for the immediate abolition of the death penalty.
Kristiina Ojuland, author. – Mr President, one knows a true friend by unconditional honesty; I hope to be a friend of the Land of the Rising Sun. However, I would call on Tokyo not to end the de facto moratorium on the death penalty. The death penalty assumes that the convict is not able to reform himself and furthermore, once carried out, it cannot be appealed against if misapplied. Even a remote chance of a mistake does not allow it to be applied in a contemporary democratic country that respects human rights. We must be consistent in our policies in the European Union and apply the same standards to all countries, from Belarus to Japan and from China to the USA.
Elena Băsescu, on behalf of the PPE Group. – (RO) Mr President, in 2011, no death penalty was executed in Japan but the new Minister of Justice announced recently that executions may be resumed. The decision corresponds to the current majority of Japanese public opinion. According to certain polls, 80% of the population would support the death penalty.
Under these circumstances, it is difficult to promote in Japan a public debate on changing the legislation or stopping the executions. However, the EU must encourage the authorities in Tokyo to address openly the subject, involving the whole society in discussions. At the same time, more transparency is needed on the conditions of detention and treatment of death row inmates. I also draw your attention to the intention of reducing the period of time for the execution of sentences. There are fears that, by doing so, it will be no longer possible to correct potential miscarriages of justice.
Joanna Senyszyn, on behalf of the S&D Group. – (PL) Mr President, the European Union does not recognise the death penalty. Pursuant to Article 2 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, no person may be sentenced to death or executed. We expect our partner countries to have similar rules.
Japan should impose a formal moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty. An open debate about the death penalty should be initiated in the country in order to reduce public support for this form of punishment, which is as high as 80%, because this support is mainly the result of a lack of proper knowledge. Japan also violates the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights through its treatment of prisoners on death row. Isolation, limited contact with other people, and harsh conditions make them particularly vulnerable to mental illness. Our resolution is the response to the announcement that the country will return to carrying out executions. We must firmly oppose the death penalty, wherever it is used, as a flagrant violation of human rights.
Sari Essayah (PPE). – (FI) Mr President, Commissioner, some 130 people are on death row in Japan, and they are now at greater risk of being executed, because the new Justice Minister, Toshio Ogawa, publicly announced on 15 January 2012 that he thought that reintroducing the death sentence was a duty.
We in the European Parliament condemn various terrorist acts, such as the attack on the Tokyo underground in 1995, and we should not show any sign of sympathy towards such acts. The death penalty, however, is the wrong answer, and is a flagrant breach of a fundamental human right of every human being: namely, the right to life. We therefore appeal to the Japanese Government to abolish the death penalty in the country altogether.
Mitro Repo (S&D). – (FI) Mr President, Japan is once again starting to implement the death penalty. Previously, it had refrained from sentencing its citizens to death. Japan is one of the few industrialised countries that still carry out the death sentence. The reintroduction of the death penalty is based solely on an announcement by the Justice Minister, and a wider national debate is not even being considered.
The death penalty, however it is carried out, is always inhumane. The European External Action Service and the Commission should use all their potential resources, in terms of political dialogue and diplomacy, to put a stop to implementation of the death sentence in Japan. The European Union is a community of values and is committed to the complete abolition of capital punishment everywhere in the world, and nothing should deter us from that.
Carl Schlyter (Verts/ALE). – (SV) Mr President, the only thing that the death penalty demonstrates is that society accepts and encourages premeditated murder. It is an utterly barbaric act that ought to be consigned to history. What is particularly barbaric in Japan is the fact that families are not even given a chance to say goodbye. However, this is also based on the belief that a person who has been given the death penalty does not have any expectations. Every person must be given a chance to improve themselves and to have the hope of a different future, the hope of improvement. If not a single person is given this hope of improvement and the opportunity to live, what hope is there for humanity?
Japan is not a barbaric country and therefore, I hope that the investigation will show that they are going to abolish their death penalty, and that is what we are calling for. The Justice Minister should maintain his predecessor’s position. Do not do anything until you have finally abolished the death penalty.
Eija-Riitta Korhola (PPE). – (FI) Mr President, we have regularly intervened with our urgent resolutions when the death sentence has been passed, and twice already in this sitting. Opposition to the death penalty and due process are examples of European values and part of a wider international policy of agreement.
The death penalty is still used in Japan. However, no one has been executed in the past 18 months, because the outgoing Justice Minister wished to pursue a more cautious approach. I hope that his successor, Toshio Ogawa, will change his mind and continue the moderate policy begun by Hideo Hiraoka, leading ultimately to the complete abolition of the penalty.
Significant steps have been taken worldwide in recent years to do away with the death penalty, and more and more countries have decided to end this form of punishment. If Japan were to join this group, it would not just be the welcome result of an international trend, but a symbolic gesture for the whole world from Asia’s leading democracy.
End of the catch-the-eye procedure
Michel Barnier, Member of the Commission. – (FR) Mr President, Mr Murphy, I appreciated your citation of Victor Hugo. Listening to you, Mr Murphy, I was reminded of another quote by Victor Hugo, who once wrote, somewhat prophetically, that wars between Europeans were like civil wars.
Coming back to Japan, I want to confirm that we have taken note, as have each and every one of you, of the declaration by the new Japanese Justice Minister, suggesting that he would be less reluctant than his predecessors to sign execution orders.
On several occasions, the European Union has expressed its position on capital punishment, and has urged Japan to adopt a moratorium on executions and recognise the positive progress made towards the universal abolition of the death penalty.
No executions have taken place in Japan since July 2010. In the case of the last two executions, we expressed, through the High Representative and Vice-President of the Commission, Baroness Ashton, our profound regret for these executions and reminded Japan that the European Union is, and would remain, opposed to the recourse of capital punishment in all cases and under all circumstances. We have also called consistently for its universal abolition.
The European Union has welcomed and does welcome the efforts of those ministers of justice who preceded Mr Ogawa to encourage public debate on the death penalty in Japan, including the decision to put in place an ad hoc committee to examine this serious issue. We have also noted the declaration made by the Japanese Federation of Bar Associations in October 2011, stating their opposition to the death penalty.
The European Union and its Member States have organised many meetings and many conferences with members of the Japanese Government, with MEPs and with non-governmental organisations on the death penalty.
We will continue these efforts to explain the European position, both through diplomatic channels and by encouraging the public debate on this issue in Japan itself. To this end, we will be sponsoring a high-level public awareness seminar, which will take place in April in Tokyo, and which will involve civil society and members of the Diet.
Ladies and gentlemen, while the EU and Japan hold different opinions on the death penalty, we are partners who have similar views and values, and we fundamentally share the same positions on almost all other human rights issues.
President. – The debate is closed.
The vote will take place today at the end of the debates.
Written statements (Rule 149)
Zuzana Brzobohatá (S&D), in writing. – (CS) It is shameful that, at the start of the 21st century, a country such as Japan, the most highly developed democracy in Asia and a model for all other developing democratic states in the region and across the world, still retains in its laws a practice as wretched and undemocratic as the death penalty. The right to life is the most fundamental human right. I would also like to remind Japan that it has publicly subscribed to the notion of a right to life, for example, in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966. In my opinion, the time has finally come to make a start on the application of this right and its proper enforcement, with no exceptions whatsoever. I would like to direct this powerful appeal to the Japanese Government and Japanese lawmakers.