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Korean Church decries delay in abolishing death penalty

The country's parliament has failed to pass an anti-death penalty bill for more than two decades

Korean Church decries delay in abolishing death penalty

A slogan on the wall of the Jeoldusan Martyrs' Shrine in Seoul that reads 'Life, Peace, Abolitionist Country Korea, Abolition of Death Penalty' is illuminated on Nov. 30, 2018. (Photo: Catholic Times of Korea)

A Catholic Church body in South Korea has joined rights groups to express dismay over a long-protracted bill to abolish the death penalty that has failed to pass in parliament for more than two decades.

The Special Bill on the Abolition of the Death Penalty was tabled at the National Assembly on Oct. 7 for the ninth time since it was first proposed on Dec. 7, 1999.

Some 30 out of 300 parliamentarians have lent their support to the bill, media reports say.

The subcommittee for abolition of the death penalty under the Catholic bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission urged the government to pass the bill and abolish capital punishment, reported Catholic Times of Korea.

The bishops’ body joined the Conference of Religious, Human Rights and Civic Organizations on the Abolition of the Death Penalty that issued a press release to call on the government to pass the bill ahead of World Day for the Abolition of the Death Penalty on Oct. 10.

“The bill was proposed eight times but no progress has been made. We will work together with both civil society and religious circles to ensure that the special bill proposed this time passes through the National Assembly,” the conference leaders said.

Although South Korea is a de facto abolitionist country with no executions for years, it should go beyond that and become a complete abolitionist country legally

The forum pointed out that various research studies showed that the death penalty has no effect on the occurrence of crime.

“Although South Korea is a de facto abolitionist country with no executions for years, it should go beyond that and become a complete abolitionist country legally,” it added.

Andrew Kim Duk-jin, a member of the subcommittee, lamented that fewer parliamentarians in the National Assembly have supported the bill while noting that discussion on the bill is more important than the number of members backing it. “It must be passed this time,” he said.

According to official government records, South Korea carried out its last executions in 1997 when 23 murder convicts were hanged.

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Nobel Peace Prize laureate President Kim Dae-jung enacted a moratorium on executions in 1998 that existed until 2012.

According to New York-based rights group Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA), South Korea sentenced one person to death in 2018 and 61 individuals remain on death row.

South Korea ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1990 but has yet to ratify the Second Optional Protocol aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, PGA noted.

The European Union and Amnesty International have written letters to the South Korean Constitutional Court in support of the abolition of the death penalty.

A 2018 survey by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea found that 80 percent of respondents were supportive of the death penalty, but 70 percent opted for repealing it for an alternative punishment.

The administration of the country's third Catholic President Moon Jae-in has been deliberating whether the execution moratorium should be upheld or be suspended.

On Nov. 17 last year, South Korea voted for the first time in favor of a United Nations resolution calling for the abolition of the death penalty.

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