The South Korean government held a meeting on Thursday, to discuss whether to resume its use of the death penalty. The meeting comes at a time of public anger, following the arrest of a man for the alleged murder of seven women.
South Korea became abolitionist in practice in December 2007, following a decade-long unofficial moratorium on executions. The country’s last executions were carried out on 31 December 1997, when 23 people were put to death.
In an open letter to South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak on Friday, Amnesty International’s Secretary General Irene Khan urged him not to reverse South Korea’s recent practice by carrying out the death penalty.
Acknowledging the South Korean public’s concern at the recent murders, Irene Khan said: “I would like to stress that our opposition to the death penalty does not in any way distract from the sympathy for the victims of violent crimes and their loved ones.
“However, Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases and considers it a violation to the right to life and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.”
Thursday’s meeting, between members of the ruling Grand National Party, the Korean National Police and the Ministries of Justice and Public Administration and Security, discussed whether to execute 58 inmates currently on death row and to introduce life imprisonment without the possibility of commutation.
The resumption of executions in South Korea would run counter to the universal protection of human rights at a time when there is a clear international trend toward abolition of the death penalty.
“In the past five years, the governments of Uzbekistan, Rwanda, the Philippines, Greece, Albania, Mexico, Turkey, Bhutan and others have removed capital punishment from their laws,” said Irene Khan.
“One hundred and thirty-eight countries have now abolished the death penalty in law or in practice. Executions have become increasingly rare. In 2007, only 24 countries carried out executions. The figure for 2008 will be very similar.
“I urge the Government of South Korea to signal its embrace of the international trend to move away from using the death penalty and to refrain from reintroducing executions.”