Taiwan’s Human Rights Commission is currently holding a seminar to discuss and promote human rights in Taiwan.
At the conference, Manfred Nowak, an Austrian human rights lawyer, spoke and encouraged Taiwan to pursue the ending of capital punishment. This is could be yet another way for Taiwan to show commitment to human rights.
Taiwan often prides itself on its progressive values, or at least the idea of them. Taiwan was the first, and still the only (unfortunately), country in Asia to legalize same sex marriage. However, Taiwan still struggles on numerous human rights issues.
One that was mentioned in the US State Department’s 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices was the issue of freedom of expression and the press. Taiwan still allows people to be sued for simple insults and the report cites numerous instances of the Taiwanese government fining citizens for what it deemed unacceptable behavior, these charges including flag burning.
As mentioned previously Taiwan also continues to execute prisoners. This is something that the vast majority of countries in the world have already outlawed, numerous other have de facto ended the practice. However, Taiwan not only hasn’t followed suit, it continues to execute prisoners in an extremely brutal way.
When people hear the phrase ‘death penalty’ they generally think lethal injection or maybe even the electric chair for more ‘archaic countries’. Taiwan on the other hand, has decided to retain some of the horrors from the martial law period and still executes its inmates with a pistol shot to the back.
Prisoners are laid on their stomachs and shot three times in the back through the heart. If the prisoner wishes to donate their organs, they are placed in a tub and shot through the brain stem.
It is a bit baffling that this insanely brutal way of murdering your own citizens could be still in effect in a county that most think of as one of the most progressive in Asia, but it is. And while most average Taiwanese people may or may not know the exact method of execution in their country, they certainly seem to support the death penalty in general.
According to numerous polls and studies, support for the death penalty was somewhere over 80 percent. This means that to really move the needle on this the government is either going to have educate its populace on why the practice that they have so long carried out is morally repugnant, or simply outlaw the practice and risk taking a serious hit in the polls (something the ruling DPP is unlikely to want to do being they are already getting tons of flak for forcing citizens to ‘coexist with COVID’).
Through what means the government moves on banning the death penalty is not as pertinent, the important thing is that they rid the country of the practice. One of the main reasons for this is that often, the government gets the wrong person.
Looking at US studies, conservatively the wrong person is murdered by the state about 4 percent of the time. This would be unacceptable if it only happened once in history let alone being as prevalent as it is.
Another reason I would argue that we shouldn’t execute people is that we have all collectively agreed as a society that murder is wrong. So why should a government be murdering its citizens? It’s the old adage of ‘two wrongs don’t make a right.’
On top of all of this, the main reason usually cited as to why we should keep the death penalty, namely that it ‘decreases crime,’ has been proven to be incorrect. Numerous studies have demonstrated that the death penalty has no noticeable effect on crime. This includes violent crime and drug crimes (which Taiwan still executes people for, yet another example of failing to evolve with the times).
While Taiwan has made great strides in numerous areas relatively quickly in its democratic era, it still has a long way to go if it wishes to truly wear the crown of ‘bastion of freedom and democracy in Asia’, ending the death penalty will be an important step on that journey.