Taiwan’s sham over death penalty

By Lin Hsin-yi 林欣怡

Since 2000, the government has professed a policy of gradually abolishing the death penalty. In 2009, it further ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and adopted them as domestic laws. Taiwan’s policy of gradual abolition followed the spirit of ICCPR Article 6. From 2006 to 2009, the country did not carry out any executions.

Restarting executions in 2010 was controversial because, according to Article 6, Clause 6 of the ICCPR: “Nothing in this article shall be invoked to delay or to prevent the abolition of capital punishment by any State Party to the present Covenant.”

A country that already had a moratorium in place and was ratifying the ICCPR should be moving toward its goal of abolition with more active and concrete policies.

However, the government’s actions have been completely contrary to the spirit of the ICCPR. Civic groups that watch the government’s implementation of the ICCPR and ICESCR have repeatedly expressed their concerns to the Ministry of Justice. The ministry interprets the ICCPR as it likes and insists its actions are compliant.

Last month, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, presented a report to the UN. He commented: “For those States that retain the death penalty, international law imposes strict requirements that must be met for it not to be regarded as unlawful.”

He also said: “States should ensure transparency — regarding individual cases of capital prosecution, death sentences and execution — to prisoners, their family members and the public, as well as the international community.”

In the past, both domestic and international human rights organizations have said that until Taiwan fully abolishes the death penalty, the Ministry of Justice should, out of humane considerations, inform the family members of inmates before their execution and allow them to see each other one last time. However, the ministry refuses to do so, and says this is better for the inmates’ emotional state.

On Nov. 14, the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister paper) published an article about upcoming executions.

Apparently, when the ministry says it will not release information to protect inmates, what it means is that it will not inform the inmate, his family or his lawyer — but it will inform reporters. Why?

Moreover, according to Article 6 of the ICCPR, the death penalty can only be used for the most severe crimes. General Comment 6 on the ICCPR also states that countries have a duty to restrict the scope of the death penalty to the most serious crimes, and that the term “most serious crimes” should be interpreted narrowly as an extraordinary measure.

The Liberty Times article not only said nine people would be executed and named them, it also said the ministry had chosen these nine based on the severity of their crimes and the number of their victims. This reveals the Minister of Justice’s true stance.

The minister feels that others on death row have not committed crimes as heinous as the nine scheduled for execution, and their crimes were not the most severe. Why, then, did prosecutors seek the death penalty in the first place? By handing down the death penalty in these cases, did judges not illustrate that Taiwan’s capital punishment is arbitrary?

Heyns’ report reinforces this point.

The Ministry of Justice is in charge of gradually abolishing the death penalty. Currently though, it is also the agency in charge of carrying out executions.

It has also invited two teams of international human rights experts to come to Taiwan to inspect the country’s implementation of the ICCPR and ICESCR.

The ministry knows that the experts may well conclude that Taiwan is in violation of various covenants. However, it has still chosen to get a series of executions out of the way and will not wait to face the experts’ findings. Nor will it respect those findings.

If the justice minister insists on carrying out executions at this point, the government should stop inviting international experts to Taiwan to review its implementation of the ICCPR and ICESCR. It will only be a waste of time and of taxpayers’ money.

The ministry has made it clear that it sees the ICCPR and ICESCR as mere articles — and does not intend to implement the opinions of those experts anyway.

Lin Hsin-yi, is executive director of Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty