Political will, judicial support and a responsible media have been the keys to the abolition of the death penalty in 108 countries. These countries have embraced the view that popular sentiments should not be allowed to demand a cruel, inhuman and degrading form of punishment, and that the range of punishments, even for the most serious crimes, should be determined by political leaders based on accurate information and a rational appreciation of the case for abolition in the light of contemporary human rights standards.
The vast majority of those countries which still retain the death penalty, however, maintain that it cannot be abolished without public support – not until the majority of citizens favour it. This is certainly true in Japan where the government maintains that the very high level of support for the death penalty shown by their own opinion surveys is cited as the greatest barrier to abolition which simply cannot be ignored by a democratic government.
To mark the 13th World Day Against the Death Penalty, we are delighted to launch a report by Dr Mai Sato and Dr Paul Bacon: “The Public Opinion Myth: Why Japan retains the Death Penalty“. Sato and Bacon’s important findings expose the weakness in the government’s position by providing evidence that public support for the death penalty is not as deeply embedded as the authorities maintain. Indeed they show, as has been found in several other countries, that a substantial proportion of those who say they favour the death penalty in the abstract would not be strongly opposed to its abolition. They conclude that “the Japanese public would embrace abolition were the government to change is stance on the death penalty“.
This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the effective abolition of the death penalty for murder in the UK. The experience internationally, and in the UK, is that once the death penalty is abolished completely the strength of opinion in favour of it begins to decline until it comes to be viewed by a new generation as yet another cruel punishment of the past.
See other reports in the DPP series which analyses public perception and the views of policy makers on the death penalty:-
- The Death Penalty in Malaysia: Public Opinion on the Mandatory Death Penalty for Drug Trafficking, Murder and Firearms Offences by Roger Hood (2013)
- The Death Penalty in Japan: A Report on Japan’s Legal Obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and an Assessment of Public Attitudes to Capital Punishment by Mai Sato & Others (2013)
- Public Opinion Survey on the Mandatory Death Penalty in Trinidad (2011) by Roger Hood and Florence Seemungal
- A Penalty Without Legitimacy: The Mandatory Death Penalty in Trinidad & Tobago (2009) by Roger Hood and Florence Seemungal