Japan’s decision to carry out its first executions in almost two years today was condemned as a hugely retrograde step by Amnesty International.Three men were hanged at prisons in Tokyo, Hiroshima and Fukuoka this morning, the first in the country since 28 July 2010 after Justice Minister Toshio Ogawa gave authorization, explaining it was his “duty” as Minister.Executions in Japan are by hanging and are usually carried out in secret. Prisoners are typically given a few hours’ notice but some may be given no warning at all. This means that prisoners live each day knowing they could be executed at any time. Families are only notified after the execution has taken place.”Today’s executions means Japan has taken a significant step backwards and joined that minority of countries that are still executing,” said Catherine Baber, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Deputy Director. “Justifying acts which violate human rights as a ‘Minister’s duty’ is unacceptable. Rather it is the responsibility of leaders to address crime without resorting to the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.” “Just two days ago Amnesty International published its report on the state of the death penalty around the world, noting the positive development that Japan had not executed in nearly two years – this morning’s hangings are a hugely retrograde step.”In January, Minister Ogawa said he was to resume executions, which he viewed as a responsibility of his job.Tomoyuki Furusawa, 46, was executed at Tokyo detention centre; Yasuaki Uwabe, 48, was executed at Hiroshima detention centre; and Yasutoshi Matsuda, 44, was executed in Fukuoka.Uwabe’s lawyers had raised concerns that Uwabe suffered from mental illness but the courts ruled that he was competent to stand trial.International law places strict limits on states that still want to use the death penalty and strongly suggests that abolition is desirable. Japan is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which states that none of its rules on the use of the death penalty should be invoked to delay or prevent abolition. More than two-thirds of all countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. On 13 March 2012 Mongolia became the latest abolitionist country, when it acceded to the key treaty of the United Nations aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, as a violation of the right to life as recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and as the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.