Question tabled by Barbara Lochbihler MEP to the EEAS on Taiwan's executions last December (30/01/2013)

Question tabled by Barbara Lochbihler MEP

Taiwan’s execution of six people in December last year makes a mockery of the authorities’ stated commitment to abolish the death penalty. 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. South China Morning Post reported that a hospital harvested organs and other body parts from one of the six executed death row inmates.
In 2011 five people were executed and 55 people are awaiting execution and have exhausted all appeals.

Did the EEAS protest against these executions?

Does the EEAS see any concrete action being taken to move forward in Taiwan’s goal of abolishing the death penalty or is this goal mere lip service?

How and when does the EEAS raise the issue of death penalty during its contacts with Taiwan authorities?

ANSWER BY THE EEAS
(GIVEN BY MR. GEORGE CUNNINGHAM, DEPUTY HEAD OF EEAS CHINA, HONG KONG, MACAO, TAIWAN, MONGOLIA DIVISION)

As is well known, the European Union maintains a principled position against the death penalty. As a consequence, after six executions took place in Taiwan on 21 December 2012, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Lady Catherine Ashton, made a strongly worded statement deploring the executions and calling on Taiwan to reinstate the moratorium on executions .

This was in line with previous EU statements by the High Representative issued following executions in Taiwan that took place in 2010 and 2011. We take this opportunity to welcome the fact that Members of the European Parliament, including Mme Lochbihler, have also expressed concern on this issue. Some of our EU Member States also issued statements condemning the executions.

It is correct to say that the December executions have sparked a real debate on the issue in Taiwanese society, led by a group of NGOs - the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty - who militate in favour of abolition. In addition, the NGO members of a consultative group to the Taiwanese justice authorities in charge of designing measures to work towards abolition, resigned en masse, accusing the Taiwanese administration of inaction.

Not only were the Taiwanese authorities criticised for failing to comply with the relevant provisions of their clemency procedure, but they have regretfully in general given the impression that they have been backtracking on the ambition of an eventual abolition. This is despite the fact that such an ambition – as a general policy line – has been expressed by them previously on a number of occasions.

On the positive side, one should mention the gradual efforts made by the Taiwanese authorities to reduce the scope of the death penalty in the criminal code. This has included the suppression of instances where the death penalty was mandatory, and - more recently in December last year - the provision for the final compulsory hearing for all death penalty cases in the highest court of the land to be open to the presence and pleading of lawyers representing both sides (as opposed to a documents-based review only).

The first cases indicate that the lower courts are expected to apply a more stringent conditionality review before a capital punishment can be handed down. But on the whole, considering the relatively high number of death sentences handed down - 16 in 2011 - and executions conducted in Taiwan  -15 since 2010 - the EEAS considers that the Taiwanese administration is not doing enough to progress concretely on this issue. We therefore continue to call for the immediate reinstatement of a moratorium on executions as a first step towards eventual abolition.

In answer to the question how and when the EEAS raises the issue of death penalty during its contacts with Taiwan authorities, in the current case, both the EEAS and the European Parliament were in action together as soon as Taiwanese media started speculating that the moratorium might be lifted. Mr. Metin Kazak MEP, Vice-Chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights, and I were both on mission in Taiwan at the time in mid-November last year and took the opportunity on the spot to demarche on the issue of maintaining the moratorium.

Following the High Representative's statement, the EU's representative in Taipei, Mr Frederic Laplanche, wrote to the most senior members of the Taiwanese authorities to inform them of the statement. He conducted several demarches as well to the most relevant Taiwanese authorities, highlighting that the EU considered that the situation regarding capital punishment had been deteriorating since 2010, and this was contrary to the goal expressed by the Taiwanese administration of its eventual abolition.

Apart from public statements and demarches, other tools have been used since 2010 to promote the idea of abolition, including in particular messages passed to the general public through the Taiwanese media.

As a recent example, on 3 January this year, our European Economic and Trade Office (EETO) in Taipei gave an interview to the Taiwanese web-based New Talk Media on the subject of death penalty. We rejected criticism that the EU's condemnation of Taiwan's death penalty policy constituted interference in Taiwan's internal affairs and recalled that abolition of the death penalty is a universal human right that the EU wishes to be observed everywhere for the well-being of people. The interview received wide press and TV news coverage. In a further public outreach, the EETO has published a very informative Q&A on the death penalty on its website, addressing the concerns raised by Taiwanese people in the course of the debate on the death penalty - and stating the EU's position.

Furthermore, a more in-depth dialogue and cooperation has been developed between the EU and its Member States vis-a-vis the Taiwanese authorities. In 2012, for example, two series of seminars gave legal professionals from Europe and Taiwan (including prosecutors, judges and lawyers) the opportunity to exchange views and experience on the question. This type of engagement will continue in 2013.

Finally, cooperation with Taiwanese civil society on the issue of death penalty is also an important part of our efforts. In this regard, an EIHRD co-funded project with the local federation of anti-death penalty NGOs (the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty) is under preparation.

Thank you.