Although more than two-thirds of the countries in the world have abolished the death penalty in law or practice, Asia has always been the region with the largest number of executions in the world. Raphaël Chenuil Hazan, Executive director of Ensemble contre la peine de mort, pointed out that the trend of abolition does not only concern modern Europe. China, for example, had abolished the death penalty under the reign of Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty, and the Communist Party of China also made promises of abolition in 1922. However, under Xi Jinping, the death penalty has become a means of consolidating government power. Human rights workers, political dissidents, ethnic minorities and others have suffered greatly from it! The remaining 25% of the countries that retain the death penalty are mostly dictatorships or countries that mistakenly believe that the death penalty can deter crimes. Taiwan is a model of democracy and human rights in Asia. The death penalty should be abolished as soon as possible to demonstrate that Taiwan is different from dictatorship China.
Sara Kowal, the convening member of the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network, emphasized that although the abolition of death penalty has recently achieved victories such as the abolition of the death penalty in Papua New Guinea and the abolition of the mandatory death penalty in Malaysia, we still see a number of countries maintaining the “War on drugs” rhetoric to justify their use of the death penalty. In addition, ADPAN members continue to face serious persecution by the government. For example: Kashmiri human rights advocate, Khurram Parvez, coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), has been arbitrarily detained in India since 22 November 2021 as retaliation for documenting the cases of unmarked mass-graves of the victims of enforced disappearances in Kashmir; Adilur Rahman Khan and A S M Nasiruddin Elan, the Secretary and Director of Odhikar are currently on trial in a cybercrime case in Bangladesh in relation to their fearless reporting of extra-judicial killing. Indonesian human rights activists Haris Azhar and Fatia Maulidiyanti from Kontras are currently on trial in relation to criminal defamation and capital defense lawyer M Ravi was recently suspended from practicing in Singapore for five years in relation to his work acting for death row prisoners. These persecutions need the attention of the international community!
Lin Hsinyi, executive director of the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty, believes that although China’s military intimidation has made Taiwan the focus of the world, we will not be afraid, and we will continue to defend democracy, freedom and human rights values. Professor Lin Shu-ya, former secretary-general of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights and a strong ally of TAEDP, once said: “The only thing that can rise above the clashes between political ideologies is human rights and never stop communicating with those who doubt you.” The work of abolishing the death penalty has become more difficult, and we will not give up every opportunity for dialogue. We look forward to our mutual solidarity and cooperation in the past two days, and together we will make Asia a place without the death penalty!
Wang Jung-Chang, Vice-Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission, Taiwan, clearly stated the Commission’s position on the abolition of the death penalty at the seminar, and strongly urged the government to suspend the execution of the death penalty.
Guillermo Martinez, Deputy Head of Office of European Economic and Trade Office, also reiterated that although the National Human Rights Commission has a working group to abolish the death penalty, Taiwan should suspend the execution of the death penalty immediately. The EU strongly opposes the use of the death penalty under any circumstances, and promoting the abolition of the death penalty is one of the key tasks of the EU. Taiwan has a vibrant democracy and is a regional and world leader in the promotion of human rights. Many countries regard Taiwan as a model, so Taiwan needs to continue to improve and abolish the death penalty. The EU is also happy to share relevant experience and provide assistance.
Jean-François Casabonne-Masonnave, director of the French Office Taipei, strongly stated that France absolutely supports the abolition of the death penalty in Taiwan. In his four years of experience in Taiwan, he believes that what Taiwan most needs to invest in is more public discussion on the abolition of the death penalty. Taiwan is one of the most mature democratic countries in Asia, but it is missing the step of abolishing the death penalty.
Legislator Chiu Hsien-Chih also pointed out that he experienced the two death penalty cases of Su Chien-Ho and Cheng Hsing-Tse, and when he served as the defense lawyer of Liu Yan-Kuo, he was shocked that neither the lawyer nor the family members of the death row prisoner had been informed that Liu Yan-Kuo was executed during his appeal process, which highlights the absurdity of Taiwan’s death penalty system. He is now a legislator and understands that elected politicians are not willing to take the risk of confronting voters in this regard, but he expects politicians to face it rationally and bravely.
Finally, Su Chien-Ho, a victim of wrongful conviction and former death row prisoner in Taiwan, shared his own experience to encourage other abolitionist actors to carry on the fight against the death penalty. He was held in detention for 21 years before he was rehabilitated. However, he believes that the death penalty should not be based on hatred and confrontation, because upholding the right to life should be paramount. In addition, due to the undescribable pain from his own experience of torture, Su Chien-Ho cooperated with NGOs and hopes to promote the adoption of the Convention against Torture in Taiwan. Finally, he pointed out that on February 8 of this year, Taiwan officially passed the “Crime Victim Rights Protection Act”. In addition to improving the level of victim protection, it also adjusted the overall system of compensation for crime victims, although this is far from enough to protect all crime victims’ rights and interests, but this is already a good progress. He is also very happy that the wrongful conviction case of Mr. Hakamada in Japan will be retried this year, and he hopes that Chiou Ho-Shun and Wang Xinfu in Taiwan can also be exonerated successfully soon.
This seminar consolidated the joint efforts of Asia-Pacific abolitionist movement organizations, and all participants looked forward to making Asia a place without the death penalty soon in future!