My letter calling for the abolition of the death penalty was published in the Taipei Times today. In the letter I mention the case of Chiang Kuo-ching. The Control Yuan’s findings on his case are reported in this article. I also mention threats against advocates of the abolition of the death penalty. Some of these are detailed in this article (Chinese language) on the Taiwan Association to End the Death Penalty’s (台灣廢除死刑推動聯盟) website.
The retention or abolition of the death penalty can be considered a reflection of a society’s values. Abolition shows that a society gives priority to upholding human rights. Retention suggests that values of hatred and vengeance linger in society.
In Taiwan, there have recently been threats of violence made against death penalty abolitionists. This and the general tone of the death penalty debate shows a lack of maturity in society. Elements of society are still gripped by feelings of hatred.
Justice is essential to a fair and harmonious society. It is achieved through a judicial process that gives balanced consideration to the rights and interests of all parties involved.
However, the death penalty provides no guarantee of justice. Abolishing the death penalty doesn’t mean that people who commit crimes escape justice. There is still strong punishment in the form of long prison sentences.
The death penalty also creates the risk of a gross miscarriage of justice when innocent people are executed. The Control Yuan recently found that Chiang Kuo-ching (江國慶), a member of the Air Force, was executed in 1997 following a flawed trial. Miscarriages of justice can and do occur in Taiwan and Chiang’s case is probably not the only one.
This highlights the need for judicial reform in Taiwan. So far, there has been a lot of talk, but no action, on this issue from President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration. There needs to be confidence that trials are fair and there is respect for human rights.
Basic human rights are a non-negotiable foundation of democracy.
The failure of politicians to show leadership on the abolition of the death penalty and judicial reform is another sign of the retreat of human rights since Ma took office. Abolishing the death penalty would be an important step in reversing this trend.