Greater Steps Can be Taken to Reduce the Death Penalty
Southern Weekend interviewed Zhou Guangquan, member of the Legal Committee of the National People’s Congress and Tsinghua University professor, about the recent proposal to reduce the number of non-violent crimes that are eligible for the death penalty. Translated by Duihua Human Rights Journal:
Southern Weekend (SW): Among the 68 capital crimes in China, the death penalty is seldom or never used in nearly half. What is your understanding of the legislative body’s thinking regarding the present [proposal to] revise the Criminal Law and eliminate 13 of them?
Zhou Guangquan (ZGQ): This revision has very positive significance for future development of criminal legislation in China and clarifies the fundamental value orientation of China’s Criminal Law. First, when adding new crimes [in the future], we won’t automatically add the death penalty. At the same time, this is to a certain degree a response to foreign concerns about the issue of capital punishment in China.
The departments responsible for drafting the law carried out much research beforehand. They did some partial calculations and found that nearly 50 percent of countries worldwide have completely abolished capital punishment, five percent only have death penalty provisions for military crimes or war crimes, and 20 percent of countries, though having provisions for capital punishment, have not carried out executions in the past decade and have, in essence, abolished the death penalty. In a nutshell, only a minority of countries retain the death penalty and an extremely small minority actually carry out executions. For instance, the United States in 2006 only executed just over 50 people, and in Japan fewer than 10 are executed each year. In those countries that both retain and use the death penalty, individuals who are put to death are mostly criminals with blood on their hands. In other words, it is basic practice among countries retaining the death penalty to use it primarily against murder.
The 13 crimes for which we’re eliminating the death penalty are mainly ones that, when looking at the 1997 Criminal Law, [the death penalty] had never been used or has been used only rarely. The Supreme People’s Court (SPC) and Supreme People’s Procuratorate provided some data, and there were some [crimes for which the death penalty] had never been used and some for which the rate of use was so low as to be basically negligible.