Published on Saturday, May 25, 2002 by OneWorld.net
Death Penalty Campaigners Target U.S. and Japan
by Daniel Nelson
European pressure on the United States and Japan to stop applying the death sentence will be intensified next week at a meeting on the abolition of capital punishment to be held in the Japanese parliament (the Diet).
The Council of Europe will use discussions at the May 27-28 seminar to reassess the observer status of the U.S. And Japan based on how far they have moved over the last year toward the goal of scrapping state executions.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Strasbourg-based international human rights body last year asked the U.S. And Japan to impose a moratorium on executions and improve conditions on "death row" as the first steps towards full abolition.
The aim of the move was to bring the countries into line with the 44 members of the Council, which describes itself as a "death penalty-free zone." No executions have taken place in member states since 1997, though not all have formally outlawed it.
"We would consider the loss of observer status very unfortunate, since we value our interaction with the Council of Europe," Larry Schwartz, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said Thursday. "We hope that the Parliamentary Assembly will broaden its focus in view of the larger benefits of cooperation with the United States."
Observer status allows countries from outside the Council's membership to take part in various aspects of its work and become involved in Assembly meetings and debates. However, observers are barred from voting.
In June last year, the Assembly agreed to promote dialogue with Japanese and U.S. lawmakers, at state and federal levels, in order to support legislative campaigns against the death penalty and to get a debate going with opponents of abolition.
An Assembly team that visited the two countries for talks with members of Congress and the Diet raised particular concerns over those against whom the death penalty was applied, and over the way the sentence was carried out.
In the U.S., concerns were raised about the execution of child offenders, people suffering from mental illnesses, and those from socially disadvantaged and minority communities, according to Liechtenstein Assembly delegate Renate Wohlwend.
For Japan, Wohlwend said the team had singled out the secrecy surrounding executions, harsh conditions of detention, and allegations of torture and forced confessions.
No prisoners have been executed in Japan this year, but 50 are waiting on death row, according to official figures. Executions in the U.S. fell from 85 in the year 2000 to 66 last year.
Nobuto Hosaka, secretary-general of the All-Party Parliamentary League for the Abolition of the Death Penalty, said next week's meeting will be the highest-profile abolitionist event ever to be held in Japan. He hoped that the participation of politicians, the media, and celebrities would help shift public and political opinion away from support for capital punishment.
Japan's justice minister and the Speakers of both Diet chambers will take part, along with U.S. campaigner Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, and former Japanese death-row prisoner Sakae Menda. Former lawmakers from Belgium, Estonia, South Korea, and Ukraine, who have mounted vociferous campaigns against the death penalty in their countries, will also participate.
Although the Japanese government of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will not welcome an abolitionist bill to be introduced by the League later this year, said Hosaka, "it knows it will not be able to ignore it."
The death penalty is a regular source of friction between the U.S. And Europe in international negotiations. The most recent manifestation of the controversy occurred during the United Nations "Children's Summit" in New York earlier this month, when the U.S. withstood pressure to end the death penalty for under-18s.
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