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“Death Penalty Impairs the Essence of the Right to Life and Thus Should Be Abolished.”
- NHRCK presents its opinion to the Constitutional Court, calling for the abolition of the death penalty-
The National Human Rights Commission of Korea(Chairperson Young-ae Choi) released an opinion on the constitutional appeal relating to the death penalty, stating that the death penalty violates the essence of the right to life and thus should be abolished.
The Republic of Korea has not carried out an execution for more than 20 years and is considered as de facto abolitionist. So far, the international community, including the UN Human Rights Committee, have issued a series of recommendations to the government for the abolition of the death penalty. The Commission, for its part, has continuously made calls for the repeal of capital punishment, starting with the release of an opinion on the subject in 2005.
The government retains its position that the abolition of the death penalty is a critical issue related to the essence of the State’s right to punish a crime and thus should be carefully reviewed. Nevertheless, it is considered to have taken one step forward towards abolishing capital punishment by expressing its support for the UN moratorium on the death penalty for the first time in 2020.
The Commission said that human lives cannot be restored once they are lost and are of absolute value that cannot be exchanged with anything else in the world. The right to life, as well as human lives, are the most fundamental values that should be protected and promoted and should never be taken away by the State. In its adoption of General Comment No. 36 (2018) on Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in October 2018, the UN Human Rights Committee noted that the death penalty is incompatible with full respect for the right to life and its abolition is a necessary step that should be taken to promote human dignity and human rights.
The Commission also observed that there is no clear evidence as to whether retention and application of the death penalty has a deterrent effect on crime. It further noted that more than half of all homicides, which account for the biggest portion of death sentences imposed, have unintentional or unknown motives and that the best way to prevent a crime is not through extreme punishments that are not a proven deterrent to a crime, but through rigorous efforts to arrest and punish offenders.
Meanwhile, retentionists argue that the probability of error exists in all criminal procedures and crimes can be prevented through scientific investigation methods and enhanced judicial processes. However, as seen from the case of the victims of the Incident of the Committee for the Reconstruction of the People’s Revolutionary Party, who were exonerated in the second trial of 2007, the lives of innocent people who have been wrongfully executed due to judicial errors cannot be restored and the loss of innocent lives cannot be justified, even by the public interests.
With regards to rehabilitation of offenders, the Commission held that the death penalty is the only punishment that makes it impossible to fulfill the purpose of educating and rehabilitating offenders. It stressed the need to find alternative measures that serve the policy objectives of criminal punishment system.
In sum, the Commission says, in its opinion to the Constitutional Court, that the death penalty should be abolished as it is a cruel form of punishment that undermines human dignity and the State’s decision to take human lives to punish a crime is a violation of the principle of proportionality as well as the essence of the right to life.
The Commission hopes that the Republic of Korea, currently a de facto abolitionist, moves towards de jure abolition of the death penalty to ensure full respect for human dignity ahead of the third ruling from the Constitutional Court on the death penalty.