Taiwan needs some more time to abolish the death penalty

Hung Chien-chao, Ph.D., Chairman, THE CENTRAL NEWS AGENCY, Taiwan

Minister of Justice Wang Ching-feng’s resignation has toughed off a public debate over whether Taiwan should abolish the death penalty. She stepped down because she would not sign an order for execution of those convicts on the death row. Convinced that capital punishment violates human rights, she has been campaigning for the abolition of the death penalty. She vowed not to sign one single death warrant while in office.

Opinion is divided on whether any criminal, no matter how perfidious his offense may be, should be punished with death. Supporters of capital punishment demand on an eye for an eye of murderers. Opponents believe it is inhuman to snuff out the life of any human being for any reason. The pros and cons have more than enough justification.

There is one thing the human rights advocates must keep in mind when they argue for an end to the death penalty. Their ideal of abolition has evolved.

From time immemorial, the Homo sapience had to cull black sheep to maintain peace and order in society. Different nations have gradually conceived the idea of ending capital punishment in their own time. Most of the Judeo-Christian countries have abolished the death penalty, but Judaism at first demanded an eye for an eye. As a matter of fact, Moslem peoples still insist on capital punishment for murderers and offenders of other blackest crimes. So are most of the peoples in Asia, including those of us in Taiwan.

That does not mean that we are not going to change our mind about the death penalty. A recent poll shows that more than 70 percent of the people in Taiwan are opposed to the abolition of capital punishment, but many of them support amendments to the Criminal Code to end the blanket sentencing to death of those convicted of murder and other similarly atrocious crimes. In fact, the ideal of abolition is evolving in Taiwan.

All we need is time, a little more time, to reach a consensus on the abolition. It is needed, if we want to change our people’s mind-set dictated by the founder of the Western Han Dynasty who ruled China from 206 to 194 B.C.

Shi Huang Di, the First Emperor of the Jin Dynasty and founder of the Chinese empire, enforced severe and cumbersome laws to control the nation. Liu Bang simplified them to three basic laws when he conquered Xiangyang, the capital of the First Emperor, to found the Han Dynasty. One of the three laws was: Death to those who killed. The Chinese have since been convinced that a murderer has to pay for his crime with death.

That is why seven out of every ten people in Taiwan continue to insist that murder be punishable by death. But their mind-set will change just like the English people. Remember death by hanging was ordered for a minor crime as stealing in England as late as the nineteenth century when Queen Victoria started her long reign? The death penalty was commuted to exile in faraway colonies such as Australia.

Taiwan wants to abolish capital punishment. It will when our people have changed their ages-old mind-set. No one is certain that change will come any time soon but everyone believes it will sooner or later.