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New justice minister faces up to death penalty controversy

2010/03/22 21:55:29

Taipei, March 22 (CNA) Taiwan's new justice minister TsengYung-fu, who entered office Monday under pressure to address a recentcontroversy over the death penalty, said enforcing capital punishmentwould not violate United Nations human rights conventions.

Former Justice Minister Wang Ching-feng was forced to resign onMarch 11, after her insistence on not signing off on the executionsof 44 inmates currently on death row sparked outrage from victims'families and some legislators.

The furor died down while acting Minister Huang Shih-mingtemporarily held the post, but public pressure remained to name a newjustice minister who would be willing to see the executions through,even if the country has not carried out an execution of a deathpenalty inmate since late 2005.

Asked if carrying out the death penalty would not violate theInternational Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) , whichTaiwan has signed into law, Tseng said the covenant only hopes thatcountries reduce the use of capital punishment.

That has happened in Taiwan, Tseng said, citing the reduction inthe number of death sentences meted out and the elimination of lawsin which the death penalty is the only punishment option.

"Carrying out a death penalty cannot be considered as violatingthe treaties," Tseng said.

He indicated that there was no deadline binding the minister ofjustice to sign the execution orders of the 44 death row inmates butsaid those who were sentenced to death for the most heinous of crimeswould have their cases reviewed first.

Despite the controversy, a ministry task force on studying waysto abolish capital punishment will hold its first meeting Tuesday asscheduled, and the ministry will conduct a survey every six months togauge public opinion on the issue.

At Monday's handover ceremony, acting Minister Huang praised Wangfor her enthusiasm and lauded her as an official who stood up forprinciples.

"It was to everyone's regret that she left," Huang said.

Meanwhile, Tseng also pledged that he would promote a mechanismduring his tenure that would make it possible to dismiss incompetentjudicial personnel.

"He who laughs at crooked men better walk very straight, " hestressed.

Tseng, 67, a former deputy justice minister, has served as chiefprosecutor in Taipei and Tainan cities and Taitung, Yunlin and Chiayicounties as well as the outlying island of Kinmen.

He has also served as the chief prosecutor with the PublicProsecutors Office for the Taiwan High Court and as the Ministry ofJustice's chief secretary.

(By An Chi-hsien and Elizabeth Hsu)