Taiwan executions put Tseng on the
spot By Dennis Engbarth
TAIPEI - Taiwanese activists and
human-rights advocates ushered in the New Year
with promises to prevent "a return to
authoritarianism" and bring justice to the
families of prisoners who were executed just
Rights lawyers say they
plan to file criminal charges against Justice
Minister Tseng Yung-fu, while calling for his
impeachment for "illegally" ordering the execution
of six convicts who had been handed death
sentences, confirmed by the Taiwan Supreme Court,
for a total of eight murders.
The men were
executed on December 21 by pistol shots to the
head and heart in three prisons across Taiwan,
without prior notification to families or lawyers.
The incident brought the total number of
persons executed by the
current government to 19.
President Ma Ying-jeou of the ruling Chinese
Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT) ended a
five-year moratorium on death penalty executions,
begun by the previous administration, with four
executions on April 30, 2010.
A total of
55 convicts remain on death row.
executions were the third set carried out since
Taiwan ratified the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the
International Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in 2009.
president promulgated his administration's
decision in December 2009 to incorporate these
international standards directly into Taiwan's
Yet, local activists charge,
the KMT government's decision to carry out the
executions overrode an appeal by a panel of
prominent international human-rights professionals
slated to review Taiwan's compliance with the two
covenants in late February 2013.
Nowak, former United Nations special rapporteur on
torture, and Eibe Riedel, joint expert committee
member of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights, issued a joint letter on November
21 last year calling on the president to refrain
from carrying out any more executions before the
According to Tseng, the
Justice Ministry "had no choice but to carry out
the execution" after the prime suspect in a child
murder case sparked public outrage by claiming he
knew he would not be executed and could "enjoy" a
life in prison.
Tseng also declared that
the Justice Ministry "has never promised to
terminate the death penalty".
after the incident, a coalition of Taiwan
human-rights organizations submitted an
impeachment motion against the Justice Minister to
the Control Yuan, the branch of government
responsible for monitoring malfeasance by
The petition, filed
in person with Control Yuan Commissioner Yeh
Yao-peng by Covenants Watch convener Kao
Yung-cheng, charged that Tseng's signature on the
execution orders on December 20 "violated Article
6-4 of the ICCPR, which has been ratified by our
country and given effect in domestic law by the
The petition added
that the ICCPR mandates that "anyone sentenced to
death shall have the right to seek pardon or
commutation of the sentence".
executive director of the Taiwan Alliance to End
the Death Penalty (TAEDP), told IPS that his
organization had helped 44 death row convicts,
including the six executed last month, to submit
formal petitions for amnesty, pardon or
commutation of sentence to the president on March
The president gave no indication
that he had approved or rejected the petitions.
In its December 21 statement announcing
the executions, the Justice Ministry said they had
been carried out in accordance with existing law,
including the Amnesty Act, which does not specify
a procedure for petitions.
told IPS that Tseng was legally required to
respect the right of petition for amnesty and
"first certify that the president had already
rejected appeals for amnesty before carrying out"
The petition concluded
that the Justice Minister "committed a grave
violation of law and negligence of authority" and
asked the Control Yuan to "impeach" Tseng, in an
example to other officials who flout the country's
commitments on paper.
Kao told IPS that
the impeachment petition "is distinct from the
question of abolition but concerns procedural
"If people can be executed,
regardless of the reasons, without fulfilling the
required legal process, Taiwan will be put back on
the road to authoritarianism," Kao warned.
He also told IPS that human-rights groups
are discussing filing criminal charges against
Tseng, who could be liable for punishment under
Article 127 of the Criminal Code with up to five
The European Union
and international and domestic human rights groups
also denounced the executions.
Commission Vice President Catherine Ashton
"deplored" the executions and called on Taipei "to
take concrete steps toward reducing the use of
capital punishment to allow the resumption of a de
East Asia Director Roseann Rife termed the action
"cold-blooded killing by the Taiwan authorities".
Ironically, while the Ministry of Justice
claims that public polls showed an overwhelming
majority in favor of the death penalty, a poll of
over 1,000 adults carried out by Taiwan Thinktank
last month said they felt the judiciary had been
"unfair", compared to only 21.4% who believed the
judgment was just.
Activists also warned
that the executions, instead of "upholding
justice", had the potential to further undermine
the quality of the judicial process.
Academic Institution for Jurisprudence
Deputy Research Fellow Liao Fu-teh, who is also a
member of a presidential advisory committee on
human rights, told IPS that "the death penalty may
be being used as a tool of intimidation".
Liao cited media reports on December 23,
2012, which related that a suspect under detention
in Hualien in eastern Taiwan for questioning in
connection with the murder of her mother had been
"frightened" by the executions and, after months
of denial, confessed to committing the killing
with her boyfriend, to avoid being executed.
Criticism of the apparent lack of official
respect for the two covenants intensified during
On December 10 last year, a
coalition of civil society, labor, environmental
and social justice organisations awarded the
president a gold-painted paper plaque for
"stomping on human rights", just as Ma was
presenting an Asian Democracy and Human Rights
Award to the Thailand-based ECPAT International in
Taipei's Far East Plaza Hotel.