Monday, February 05, 2007

About 330 Days Until South Korea Moves Over

By this December South Korea will have gone ten full years without an execution. Under the administrations of Kim Dae-jung (himself sentenced to death in the 1980's) and Roh Moo-hyun South Korea has experienced a virtual moratorium on capital punishment.

If South Korea reaches the 10 year mark without another execution, Amnesty International will slide the country over to the 'abolitionist in practice' group of countries which now number 20. Being a member of that group would move them into the world majority of 111 countries that have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice.

The remaining 84 'retentionist' nations (83 in December if South Korea holds off), which represent the entire spectrum of wealth and political organization, continue to see the death penalty as either an effective deterrent to crime or a necessary tool for controlling the populace. Some countries, no doubt, use it for both. It will come as no surprise that North Korea is a retentionist nation. World heavyweights that keep it company include the United States of America, China, and Japan.

It is thought that the movement of South Korea into the majority of abolitionist countries will make it very difficult for them to return to the use of the death penalty. The amount of international and domestic pressure that could result from any attempt at executing a convicted criminal would likely be too much for the government to withstand, so there are a great number of advocates out there that are hopeful that the rest of 2007 passes quietly.

A bill introduced to the National Assembly in February of 2005, which is currently under debate, could help move South Korea into the ranks of countries that have officially abolished the death penalty. 175 out of the assembly's 299 members have expressed support for it.

There are at least minor concerns at this point. The presidential election later this year could empower a politician who is much more amenable to enforcing death sentences. As the election doesn't take place until December, it is likely that this will have no immediate influence on the enforcement of the death penalty. However, at least three new death sentences have been handed out by the court over the past two years. A hanging is not likely to occur this calendar year, but some momentum may be there for one or more in the future.

Amnesty International, in an attempt to keep South Korea from reverting to past practices, and on a larger scale, to encourage them to set an example for the rest of Asia, has maintained constant pressure on the government in Seoul and promoted awareness throughout the peninsula. Amnesty believes that South Korea represents the fulcrum around which the rest of the region can be swayed in favor of complete and unquestioned human rights practices.

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