Death penalty, education reform activists team up

Death penalty, education reform activists team up

Taipei Times Sunday, Oct 11, 2009, Page 3

On World Day Against the Death Penalty yesterday, anti-capital punishment and education reform activists urged the government to introduce the debate on death penalty in schools so that students could start thinking about controversial issues early.

“When we try to promote abolition of the death penalty, we often run into supporters of capital punishment who refuse to talk to us at all,” Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty executive director Lin Hsin-yi (林欣怡) told a news conference in Taipei yesterday.

“They don’t know why we oppose the death penalty and aren’t interested in listening to us. They simply don’t want to talk to us because we represent something they don’t agree with,” the director said.

However, when those who support and oppose the death penalty have a chance to talk — at conferences and forums — about half of those who support the death penalty change their minds and raise constructive ideas on how capital punishment could be abolished without negatively impacting society, she said.

The situation highlights a problem in society — people are often reluctant to listen to what others have to say, especially when it concerns a controversial issue, and that is why discussion of controversial issues should be introduced into the education system, she said.

Nicolas Baudouin, policy officer of the European Economic and Trade Office in Taiwan, who has spoken out against the death penalty and took part in the press conference, agreed.

“Supporting abolition of the death penalty is a decision that everyone must make for themselves. That is why a better understanding of the death penalty is needed,” he said. “This is more true for the younger generation, which needs to be informed since they will have to decide one day as citizens.”

He said that all studies showed that abolition of the death penalty did not lead to increases in crime and that the death penalty was not a more effective measure to stop crime than other punishments.

Rather, capital punishment “represents an unacceptable denial of human dignity and integrity,” Baudouin said. “Besides, any miscarriage of justice — which is inevitable in any legal system — is irreversible [in the case of capital punishment], bearing a terrible aftermath for the victims of mistrials.”

Joanna Feng (馮喬蘭), executive director of the Humanistic Education Foundation, said that discussing the death penalty in schools could be a good start for further debates on controversial issues in education, which would better prepare students for the real world.

“Our education system never allows students to talk about controversial issues, which means that students do not know how to face people with different opinions when they leave school,” Feng said.

“I believe that’s the main cause of confrontation — rather than debates and talks — in our society,” Feng said.

The activists, along with teachers, are taking part in a four-day seminar that began yesterday to come up with a teaching manual on the debate over the death penalty for Taiwanese teachers based on a manual published by the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty this year.