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Human Rights Commissioner on recent decisions concerning the death penalty

11.11.2016

Bärbel Kofler, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office, issued the following statement today (11 November):

I am deeply concerned by several decisions made this week concerning the death penalty:

In a referendum held in California, supporters of the death penalty were again able to win the day. The last vote took place in 2012. The percentage of those in favour increased, while the turnout was lower this time.

In Nebraska, citizens voted to reinstate the death penalty only one year after it was abolished, while in Oklahoma the electorate decided in favour of incorporating an additional article into the constitution on retaining the death penalty.

In Japan, the 17th execution since Prime Minister Abe came to office at the end of 2012 was carried out on the basis of a judgement handed down by a lay judge court.

I regret these decisions.

Both in the US and in Japan, there is an open discussion in civil society on the abolition of the death penalty. I welcome this discussion; it forms a crucial basis for dialogue.

I am aware that capital punishment is often preceded by very serious crimes which have inflicted great suffering on the victims and their families. However, I believe that the state has a duty to protect all human lives, including those of criminals. I am convinced that there are other ways of achieving atonement and deterrence. That is why I am opposed to the death penalty, which I regard as an inhumane and cruel punishment, whatever the circumstances.

Background information:

  • In California, two legislative proposals were put to the popular vote on 8 November 2016: Prop. 62 (replacing the death penalty with life imprisonment) was rejected by a margin of 54% to 46% of the votes cast, while Prop. 66 (expediting the proceedings prior to execution) prevailed with 51% of the votes cast in favour and 49% against. While 48% of 12.4 million voters voted in favour of abolishing the death penalty in 2012, this time it was only 46% of a total of 8.5 million voters.
  • In Nebraska, the retention of the law on the abolition of the death penalty from 2015 was rejected in referendum 426 with 61% of the votes cast in favour of repeal. The death penalty has thus been re‑introduced in Nebraska only a year after it was abolished.
  • In Japan, a 45‑year‑old man sentenced to death for robberies which resulted in the death of three people was executed on 11 November 2016. He had been sentenced to death by a lay judge court of first instance in 2011. This was the second time that a convicted individual was sentenced to death by a panel which included lay judges.

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