Winter 2006

Moratorium Project Hosts International Death Penalty Conference

On December 6 and 7, 2005, the ABA Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project, the Section, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA), and the European Commission co-hosted the International Leadership Conference on Human Rights and the Death Penalty in Tokyo, Japan, to discuss global death penalty issues. The conference brought together approximately 250 lawyers, bar association representatives, human rights activists, and other professionals from around the world for a series of lectures and discussions designed to educate attendees on death penalty initiatives around the world, assist participants in advocating for and implementing new strategies and policies, and provide the opportunity for cross-cultural discussion about death penalty issues and strategies. The conference also launched an ongoing discussion and negotiation to draft a global legal statement of principle on death penalty issues.

Conference panel discussions and keynote speeches addressed such topics as international treaty law and consular rights; the legal community in effecting change; the role of crime victims; special responsibilities of judges and prosecutors in death penalty cases; alternative sentences for serious crimes; and wrongful convictions. Conference participants came from around the world, including the United States, Japan, England, Germany, Taiwan, China, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Nepal.

While details of participant countries’ death penalty systems may differ from U.S. capital punishment systems, many of the fundamental questions addressed at the conference are universal. For example, every country with the death penalty must deal with a broad range of issues relating to capital punishment, including the possibility of wrongful convictions, the quality and availability of defense counsel, the limiting of the death penalty for certain classes of offenders, conditions of detention and execution, and the limits/requirements of international law. The conference provided a forum for participants to discuss these and other issues with an eye toward helping develop new, innovative approaches that can be implemented in participants’ home countries.

Japan and the United States are the only industrialized democracies that still regularly execute convicted murderers. The use of the death penalty has been declining in the United States, but has increased in Japan. As of September 2004, there were 60 people on death row in Japan whose sentences have been finalized, an increase of 10 from 1999 and more than double the level, 24, of 1986. In 2004, Japan conducted two executions by hanging, the sole method employed there. In some years, the rate is double or triple that. Japan's death penalty system has faced international criticism because of the harsh treatment of death row inmates, who are detained

in solitary confinement and their contact with the outside world is restricted. They are given about one hour's notice of their execution and cannot see relatives beforehand or make final appeals. Public access, including by lawyers, to execution facilities is denied, and the government announces only the number of executed inmates the number of executed inmates, refusing even to disclose their names.

A follow-up conference is planned for 2007.

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