Executions Elicit Fears of Authoritarianism

  • by Dennis Engbarth (taipei)
  • Tuesday, January 08, 2013
  • Inter Press Service

A prison on Taiwan's Green Island. Credit: Prince Roy/CC-BY-2.0

Rights lawyers say they plan to file criminal charges against Justice Minister Tseng Yung-fu, while calling for his impeachment for "illegally" ordering the execution of six convicts who had been handed death sentences, confirmed by the Taiwan Supreme Court, for a total of eight murders.

The men were executed on Dec. 21 by pistol shots to the head and heart in three prisons across Taiwan, without prior notification to families or lawyers.

The incident brought the total number of persons executed by the current government to 19. President Ma Ying-jeou of the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT) ended a five-year moratorium on death penalty executions, begun by the previous administration, with four executions on Apr. 30, 2010.

A total of 55 convicts remain on death row.

The executions were the third set carried out since Taiwan ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in 2009.

The president promulgated his administration's decision in December 2009 to incorporate these international standards directly into Taiwan's domestic law.

Yet, local activists charge, the KMT government's decision to carry out the executions overrode an appeal by a panel of prominent international human rights professionals slated to review Taiwan's compliance with the two covenants in late February 2013.

Manfred Nowak, former United Nations special rapporteur on torture, and Eibe Riedel, joint expert committee member of the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, issued a joint letter on Nov. 21 last year calling on the president to refrain from carrying out any more executions before the February review.

According to Tseng, the Justice Ministry "had no choice but to carry out the execution" after the prime suspect in a child murder case sparked public outrage by claiming he knew he would not be executed and could "enjoy" a life in prison.

Tseng also declared that the Justice Ministry "has never promised to terminate the death penalty".

Shortly after the incident, a coalition of Taiwan human rights organisations submitted an impeachment motion against the Justice Minister to the Control Yuan, the branch of government responsible for monitoring malfeasance by government officials.

The petition, filed in person with Control Yuan Commissioner Yeh Yao-peng by Covenants Watch convenor Kao Yung-cheng, charged that Tseng's signature on the execution orders on Dec. 20 "violated Article 6-4 of the ICCPR, which has been ratified by our country and given effect in domestic law by the Implementation Act."

The petition added that the ICCPR mandates that "anyone sentenced to death shall have the right to seek pardon or commutation of the sentence".

Lin Hsin-yi, executive director of the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (TAEDP), told IPS that his organisation had helped 44 death row convicts, including the six executed last month, to submit formal petitions for amnesty, pardon or commutation of sentence to the president on Mar. 29, 2010.

The president gave no indication that he had approved or rejected the petitions.

In its Dec. 21 statement announcing the executions, the Justice Ministry said they had been carried out in accordance with existing law, including the Amnesty Act, which does not specify a procedure for petitions.

However, Kao told IPS that Tseng was legally required to respect the right of petition for amnesty and "first certify that the president had already rejected appeals for amnesty before carrying out" the executions.

The petition concluded that the Justice  Minister "committed a grave violation of law and negligence of authority" and asked the Control Yuan to "impeach" Tseng, in an example to other officials who flout the country's commitments on paper.

Kao told IPS that the impeachment petition "is distinct from the question of abolition but concerns procedural justice".

"If people can be executed, regardless of the reasons, without fulfilling the required legal process, Taiwan will be put back on the road to authoritarianism," Kao warned.

He also told IPS that human rights groups are discussing filing criminal charges against Tseng, who could be liable for punishment under Article 127 of the Criminal Code with up to five years' imprisonment.

The European Union and international and domestic human rights groups also denounced the executions.

European Commission Vice President Catherine Ashton "deplored" the executions and called on Taipei "to take concrete steps toward reducing the use of capital punishment to allow the resumption of a de facto moratorium".

Amnesty International East Asia Director Roseann Rife termed the action "cold blooded killing by the Taiwan authorities."

Ironically, while the MOJ claims that public polls showed an overwhelming majority in favour of the death penalty, a poll of over 1,000 adults carried out by Taiwan Thinktank last month said they felt the judiciary had been "unfair", compared to only 21.4 percent who believed the judgment was just.

Activists also warned that the executions, instead of "upholding justice", had the potential to further undermine the quality of the judicial process.

Academic Institution for Jurisprudence Deputy Research Fellow Liao Fu-teh, who is also a member of a presidential advisory committee on human rights, told IPS that "the death penalty may be being used as a tool of intimidation".

Liao cited media reports on Dec. 23, 2012, which related that a suspect under detention in Hualien in eastern Taiwan for questioning in connection with the murder of her mother had been "frightened" by the executions and, after months of denial, confessed to committing the killing with her boyfriend, to avoid being executed.

Criticism of the apparent lack of official respect for the two covenants intensified during 2012.

On Dec. 10 last year a coalition of civil society, labour, environmental and social justice organisations awarded the president a gold-painted paper plaque for "stomping on human rights", just as Ma was presenting an Asian Democracy and Human Rights Award to the Thailand-based ECPAT International in Taipei's Far East Plaza Hotel.


© Inter Press Service (2013) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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