10 October is the World Day Against the Death Penalty. When Chen Shui-bian was elected in 2000 one of his policies was to abolish capital punishment. Although the government was slow in moving towards this goal there have been no executions carried out in Taiwan since December 2005. This is a result of a moratorium and the necessary changes to the law have still yet to be made. There are currently 29 prisoners on death row and five people were sentenced to death in 2007.
When Ma Ying-Jeou and the KMT took office this year Wang Ching-feng was appointed as the Minister for Justice. Wang had been actively involved in social justice and human rights groups and personally opposed the death penalty. Following her appointment Wang said the ministry would consider abolishing the death penalty, but she was unsure how to achieve this (ref).
One of the problems that the government faces on this issue is public opinion. Opinion polls have found about 80% of Taiwanese are opposed to abolishing the death penalty. However, 53% support replacing the the death penalty with a life sentence without parole.
According to Amnesty International 137 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. 60 countries still retain and use the death penalty. Many of the countries that retain the death penalty are in Asia. However, there is a worldwide trend towards ending the death penalty.
It is time for Taiwan to take the necessary measures to abolish the death penalty. One of the key steps in achieving this is educating the public. It is necessary for the government to lead on this issue, rather than just follow public opinion. The government could also take a broader approach to the issue by promoting human rights education.
In December 2007 the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the abolition of the death penalty. Although Taiwan is not a member of the UN, abolishing the death penalty would clearly demonstrate Taiwan’s respect for and commitment to human rights. This would help to enhance Taiwan’s standing in the international community and finally bring an end to this inhumane form of punishment.