Chairperson’s Statement on
the 20th ‘World Day Against the Death Penalty’
The National Human Rights Commission of Korea(Chairperson Doohwan Song, hereinafter the ‘Commission’) hereby releases a statement calling for the abolishment of death penalty in Korea on the ‘World Day Against the Death Penalty’.
The Republic of Korea has not imposed death sentence for the past 24 years. Though Amnesty International recognizes Korea to be the de facto death penalty-free country, as the very last execution was carried out on 3 December 1997, it is still legally possible to execute criminals in Korea.
Deterrence and prevention of crime, one of the main reasons mentioned for retaining death penalty, has not been proven sufficient in both domestic and international settings. There is a high chance that death penalty may also cause irreversible harm on the rights to life, as seen in the example of the ‘People’s Revolutionary Party Incident’ in 1974, the case which was found guilty at the time but later found innocent in the retrial in 2007.
What is more, death penalty is an inhumane punishment which allows a state to exercise its power to take away the right to life of its citizens. It is clear that death penalty and the concept of human dignity cannot coexist as death penalty violates the rights to life, the very foundation of one’s fundamental freedom.
Abolishing death penalty is an international trend. Two thirds of the country in the world have abolished death penalty or no longer execute criminals and only 55 countries retain death penalty by law as of now. The international community and relevant treaty bodies, including the UN Human Rights Committee, have consistently called on the Government of the Republic of Korea to abolish the capital punishment. The NHRCK has also been raising its voice on the matter and provided an opinion to the Constitutional Court in 2021 before the third court decision regarding the death penalty.
Korean Government has to actively push forward the process of abolishing capital punishment, in order to follow the international trend and respond to the need of the public. Korean Government was in favor of the adoption of the resolution in December 2020, which was about having a capital punishment moratorium. The Commission’s 2018 survey found that 66.9% of the people agreed on repealing death penalty altogether, given that there are alternate ways for adequate level of punishment. The time is now to start making efforts to abolish the rule.
In the process of abolishing capital punishment, however, Korean government has to find measures to properly penalize criminals, as there are concerns for weakened will to punish criminals on an appropriate level. There also has to be plans to provide remedies to the victims and their families.
Rights to life is a right that is imperative and has to be protected at all times. I hope the 20th ‘World Day Against the Death Penalty’ serves as an opportunity for us all to think deep about the matter of abolishing death penalty for the better society where everyone’s rights and dignity are ensured.