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Home > Debates Last Updated: 09:44 06/21/2007
Comment (June 20, 2007)

Rejoinder to Nelisa Asato on "Should Japan Kill the Death Penalty?"

Daniel Dolan (Professor, Tohoku University)


Nelisa Asato has commented thoughtfully on my opinion essay titled "Should Japan Kill the Death Penalty?" Here I would like to follow up with some brief notes and explanation.

In Asato's comments, the author expresses the following key concerns with my essay:

  • "Although it is true that many countries have abolished the death penalty, I do not believe that Japan should or will give into abolitionist pressures simply because other countries have done so."
  • "To imply that Japan should abolish capital punishment simply because other countries have done so seems to undermine the Japanese right to self-rule."
  • "It also casts the Japanese in an unfairly unflattering light Japan has no incentive to abolish the death penalty and as a consequence, has not. The same holds true for the United States. If the Japanese government abolishes its use of capital punishment, it will be because it is in the best interests of Japan and the Japanese people.

I did not intend to imply in my essay that Japan should abolish the death penalty only because other countries have. Rather, I tried to show that there are sufficiently serious concerns about Japan's death penalty practices - particularly those documented by Amnesty International - to motivate Japanese citizens and elected officials to comprehensively review current practices and square these protocols with recognized liberal democratic principals. I do not believe that such critical examination places Japan "in an unfairly unflattering light."

Regarding global abolitionist trends, the average annual rate at which nations have officially rejected the death penalty has tripled between 1965 and 1995 to a total of 105, including the group of seven largest industrialized countries (with the notable exception of the United States) and all EU member states. In contrast, the list of 90 retentionist countries reads like a roll call of nations with either or both questionable human rights practices and repressive regimes. In my essay I hoped to raise the question of what camp Japan desires to belong to, and to be fair there is no question that my criticisms of Japan's death penalty practices could be applied even more forcefully to the United States.

The fundamental point I intended to make in my essay is that nations that position themselves and are recognized as liberal democracies should endeavor to honor the egalitarian and human rights principles that underpin democratic ideals by transparently and diligently assessing their death penalty policies. This sentiment is perhaps best voiced by Nelson Mandela, when he called for rejection of the death penalty because "that type of vengeance does not help us, to kill people merely because they have killed others."

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