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Japan Executes Two Prisoners on Authorization of New Justice Minister

Two executions were carried out by the Japanese government on August 3. These are the first executions to be authorized by the current Minister of Justice, Makoto Taki, who took office in June of this year. This is the second set of executions to take place in Japan this year, bringing Japan’s total number of executions in 2012 to five. Japan typically carries out executions in cases  involving murder with aggravating circumstances or murder carried out with other felonies. Consistent with that practice, one of the prisoners executed yesterday had been convicted of the rape and murder of a 19-year-old girl, while the other had been convicted of murdering two relatives. Japan did not carry out any executions in 2011.

Japan is defined as a retentionist state by the United Nations, which means that it has carried out executions in the last 10 years. Only seven executions have been carried out by the Japanese government since the Democratic Party of Japan took control in 2009, and 2011 was the first year since 1992 in which no executions took place. In Japan, there are currently over 130 inmates on death row. Japan voted against the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution on the use of the death penalty in 2007, 2008 and 2010.  Japan and the United States of America are the only two industrialized democratic nations that continue to carry out executions. Moreover, there has not been much public, open debate around the ethics of capital punishment in Japan. A 2010 government survey showed that 85% of the Japanese public agrees with retaining capital punishment as it is practiced. This public support for capital punishment is often invoked to justify its implementation by the Government of Japan. The executive director of Amnesty International in Japan, Hideki Wakabayashi, said in a statement last year that “the concept of human rights in Japan is narrow. It is important to view human rights from a broad angle…and to change the definition and image of human rights.” Considering the high rate of public approval for the death penalty in Japan, it will take much public debate, government cooperation and advocacy by NGOs before we see significant movement away from capital punishment.