Today is International Human Rights Day, wrote Ambassador David Warren in his British Embassy Tokyo blog on 10 December.
We had a very interesting and important visit recently from the Death Penalty Project, an organisation working to protect the human rights of those around the world facing the death penalty. Japan is, of course, a country that still uses the death penalty. From time to time, there have been effective moratoria on its use, but two people were executed in July, and the EU remains active in encouraging Japan to find alternative sanctions, or at least to ensure that its practices meet current international standards.
Proponents of the death penalty point to the high level of public support—although when one looks at the figures, there are nuances that are worth further analysis. A debate is developing in Japan about its use. This is partly driven by the introduction of a lay judge system last year, partly by concern about past and possible future miscarriages of justice—and partly by the sort of change in public and political opinion that we have seen in many other countries. The Death Penalty Project mission met MPs, lawyers and members of civil society. Changing attitudes will be a slow process. But there is awareness of the issue, and we are keen to contribute, constructively, to the debate in the hope that abolition may become a real prospect in the future.