Former U.N. rights head suggests death penalty moratorium

Louise Arbour, the Tang Prize winner for the rule of law, suggested Saturday when asked how Taiwan might deal with the death penalty issue that many countries have adopted a moratorium on capital punishment before abolishing it.

Speaking at a press conference in Taipei, Arbour said several abolitionist countries, including Canada, have started by putting in place a moratorium on executions so that the death penalty remains an option and to avoid the appearance of radical change.

"Over the course of five, 10, 20 years, it becomes evident that the crime rate doesn't increase and I think victims' families may come to understand that there's a larger public interest in particularly guarding against wrongful convictions," said Arbour, a former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and a current member of the International Commission Against the Death Penalty.

"Even the most sophisticated legal systems have, at times, convicted an innocent person," she said. "This is a price too high to pay for any society."

Public support for the death penalty remains high in Taiwan, with multiple media and government polls over the years consistently showing that over 70 or 80 percent of Taiwanese oppose abolishing the capital punishment.

But Arbour, who is in Taiwan to accept her Tang Prize award, said scrapping the practice has become a worldwide trend and that in most countries the trend has not been started by public opinion.

"It comes from enlightened, progressive political leadership," she said.

Arbour added that a modern government should not base its policies on ideology, electoral considerations or public opinion, but facts and scientific evidence, including social science evidence.

"And on that, there is nothing to support the death penalty," she said.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel