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Video message on the occasion of the establishment of the Citizen’s Committee to Abolish Capital Punishment, Japan

It gives me great pleasure to lend the UN’s and the United Nations Human Rights Office’s support to this important initiative of yours.

A Citizen’s Committee to Abolish Capital Punishment in Japan will carry forward the voices of civil society that have always formed the heart of the abolitionist movement. We hope that it will also allow us to deepen our partnership. In particular, we greatly appreciate the Japanese translation of our publication “The Death Penalty and its Victims”, which has allowed its dissemination among many local communities in Japan.

The death penalty contravenes the very notion of human dignity. It denies dignity by refusing the possibility of rehabilitation. It is incompatible with the right to life and can, under certain circumstances, amount to torture, and indeed it often does.

The world is fortunately moving steadily towards the abolition of the death penalty. Last December, a record 121 States voted for the General Assembly resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty.

On the ground, progress is even more marked. Today, some 170 States across the globe have either abolished the death penalty in law, or do not carry out executions in practice. According to Amnesty International, last year only 19 of the 193, some 10%, Member States of the United Nations actually carried out executions.

But too often, governments that retain the death penalty cite public support in justification of this most cruel of punishments. Yet, too rarely do we hear the truth that, across the globe, when people learn more about and are better sensitized about the actual application of the death penalty, support drops. Public support that relies on secrecy about how the death penalty is actually applied cannot legitimately be cited as a justification for such a grave and irreversible act as the taking of human life by the state. Even, of course, when it turns out that evidence has been found to prove that the person that has already been executed was actually innocent, which happens far too often.

We would like to take this opportunity to urge Japan to commute or pardon death sentences, and to impose a moratorium on executions. We also call on the Government of Japan to ratify the Second Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at abolition of the death penalty.

Again, I would like to reaffirm the strong opposition of the United Nations, the Secretary-General and the United Nations Human Rights Office to the death penalty – at all times and everywhere. We therefore urge all member states that still retain the death penalty, including Japan, to abolish it.

I wish you a productive and successful meeting, and we look forward to working with the new Citizen’s Committee to Abolish Capital Punishment towards the abolition of the death penalty in Japan.

Thank you, and my best wishes and good luck to you.