Washington International Law Journal


Japan is the only industrialized democracy in the world to not explicitly proscribe the execution of the mentally retarded. In the face of opposition from both international bodies and non-governmental organizations, Japan persists in engaging in a practice condemned by both international law and the laws of the vast majority of the world's nations. Even the United States, a nation that remains staunchly pro-death penalty, abandoned its practice of executing the mentally retarded in 2002 due to the emergence of a national consensus against the practice. This Comment examines Japan's use of the death penalty and its imposition on mentally retarded defendants. From a criminological standpoint, the goals of the death penalty are not served by executing the mentally retarded, who lack the culpability and blameworthiness to warrant execution. Executing the mentally retarded fails to serve the aims of the Japanese criminal justice system, which primarily focuses on rehabilitation and reformation, rather than deterrence and punishment. If a country such as the United States, which shows no signs of abandoning its use of the death penalty, can commit to the abolition of the death penalty for the mentally retarded, Japan should also officially abandon the practice and continue to adopt international human rights norms. Multinational organizations such as the United Nations, the European Union, and the Council of Europe have raised concerns over Japan's continued use of the death penalty, as have international human rights groups such as Amnesty International. Even if Japan chooses to partially ignore these groups, formally abolishing the death penalty for the mentally retarded will demonstrate Japan's willingness to honor its international human rights commitments.

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