Asia-Pacific, Crime & Justice, Headlines, Human Rights

DEATH PENALTY: Urgent Appeal for Fair Trials

Dennis Engbarth

TAIPEI, Dec 14 2011 (IPS) - Senior representatives of Amnesty International and the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network have urged the Taiwan government to “uphold fairness and justice” in its judicial system and resume a broken moratorium on use of the death penalty.

Amnesty International and the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN) together with the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty have published a regional report ‘When Justice Fails: Thousands Executed in Asia after Unfair Trials’ focussed on the 14 countries in the region which retain the death penalty, including Taiwan.

After reviewing what constitutes a “fair trial” and the importance of the right to fair trial in death penalty cases, the new AI/ADPAN report highlights laws and practices that undermine the right to fair trial in eight Asian countries.

These barriers include reliance on “confessions” extracted through torture and other forms of ill-treatment as core or sole sources of evidence, the retention of mandatory death sentences including for non-lethal crimes, the lack of the presumption of innocence, inadequate guarantees for the right to legal counsel, the lack of effective processes for review and to seek clemency and the lack of transparency and independence in special courts and rushed proceedings and offers recommendations for improvement.

“The consequence of the high number of executions in Asian countries and the widespread application of unfair trials in death penalty retaining countries in Asia makes miscarriages of justice a reality, just as in the case of Chiang Kuo-ching in Taiwan,” said Louise Vischer, ADPAN coordinator in AI’s Asia-Pacific Regional Programme.

The new ADPAN campaign is calling for action for seven other persons facing execution in China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan and Singapore in addition to the case of Chiou Ho-shun of Taiwan.

Vischer related that all eight cases are “at crucial points in the legal process with real risks of execution following unfair trials. Since no judicial process is perfect and can exclude all possibility of error, the only way to protect against executing innocents is to abolish the death penalty,” the ADPAN coordinator said.

“ADPAN has sympathy with the victims of crime, but the death penalty is not an effective means of combatting crime and that the victims of crime become double victims when innocent persons are executed and the real perpetrators are not brought to justice,” stated Vischer.

Catherine Baber, deputy director for the Asia-Pacific programme of Amnesty International, stated that Taipei was chosen as the site to release the report Dec. 8 after the Taiwan government broke a nearly five- year tacit moratorium on execution of death penalties. That was with executions of four defendants in April 2010 and five in March 2011 despite having ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and incorporating their provisions into domestic law March 2009.

Baber related that Taiwan’s justice ministry admitted earlier this year that the late Air Force private Chiang Kuo-ching had been wrongly executed in August 1997 on charges of raping and murdering a five-year old girl the previous year and that President Ma Ying-jeou had made a public apology to Chiang’s family.

“This apology was too little and too late for Chiang’s family and by publishing this report in Taiwan we hope to ensure that there will be no more cases of Chiang Kuo-ching in Asia,” Baber stated.

“Taiwan has chosen to be bound by international standards, but actions speak louder than fine rhetoric,” said Baber, who specifically criticized Taiwan for “executing defendants last April whose appeals for clemency were still in process

“The addition of 15 confirmed death sentences this year has imparted greater urgency to our call on the Taiwan government to restore the moratorium, especially as some of the cases are based on confessions extracted through torture and will lead to new miscarriages of justice,” said Baber.

Baber said the new campaign highlighted the case of Chiou Ho-shun, who is now the subject of an AI ‘Urgent Action’ appeal, because his conviction in 1989 on charges of kidnapping and murdering a nine- year old boy Lu Cheng and another woman were was based only on a confession that was extracted through torture during interrogation.

Chiou’s case had rebounded between the Taiwan High Court and Taiwan Supreme Court 11 times since 1989 until his death sentence was finally confirmed by the Supreme Court on Jul. 28 and his request for an extraordinary appeal rejected by the Office of the Public Prosecutor General Aug. 25.

Greg Yo, Chiou’s defence lawyer, stated that his client’s conviction and death sentence were upheld despite the fact that video and sound recordings of the interrogation revealed that Chiou and his co- defendants had been tortured and even though two public prosecutors and 10 police officers investigating the Lu Cheng case were convicted of extracting confessions through torture.

Yo related that judges during Chiou’s case had stated that “they did not want to hear any more about ‘torture’.

“The case of Chiou Ho-shun contradicts claims that such practices and mentalities are limited to the military and do not exist in the civilian judicial system,” said stated Yo, who added that “if Chiou Ho-shun can be executed based on a confession taken by torture, he will become another Chiang Kuo-ching.”

TAEDP Executive Director Lin Hsin-yi stated that the Taiwan government’s “words contradict its actions.”

Lin related that the initial draft of Taiwan’s first national report on the implementation of the two human rights covenants released by the Ministry of Justice on Oct. 25 dropped previous presidential commitments to “gradually abolish the death penalty” and promised only to “decrease the use of the death penalty as a long-term aim.”

Moreover, Lin related that the Taiwan Supreme Court had confirmed 15 death sentences as of the end of November 2011, bringing the total list of persons on death row to 54, and said several of the new cases included convictions based only on confessions and for non-lethal crimes.

“After ratifying the two human rights covenants and their guarantees for the right to life, the Taiwan government has gone in a reverse direction,” said Lin.

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