Soka Gakkai International
Buddhism in Action for Peace
History & Philosophy
Stories and reflections on the Buddhist approach to life
On October 29, an event calling for the abolition of the death penalty in Japan was held at the Italian Institute of Culture in Tokyo. Sponsored by the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Christian lay movement based in Italy, and the European Commission, the event was organized as part of the Community of Sant’Egidio’s “No Justice Without Life” campaign to raise public awareness against the death penalty around the world.
Speakers included Domenico Giorgi, Ambassador of Italy to Japan, Hans Dietmar Schweisgut, Ambassador of the European Union to Japan, and Mario Marazziti, President of the Commission for Human Rights of the Italian House of Representatives and cofounder of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty.
Speakers examined the value placed on human life in contemporary society, stressing the fact that 140 countries have abolished the death penalty and only 57, including Japan, retain it. The discussion highlighted a lack of interest in this topic in Japan, and that while high levels of public support for the death penalty are said to exist, closer examination shows that this may not be the case. Participants were unanimous in calling for further debate on the issue.
SGI Executive Director for Peace Affairs Hirotsugu Terasaki was among invited panelists who voiced their opposition to the death penalty. Other panelists included the Reverend Ryuji Furukawa of the Seimeizan Schweitzer Temple in Fukuoka Prefecture, Ms. Hideko Hakamada, whose brother Iwao Hakamada has been on death row in Japan for 47 years, as well as several lawyers, scholars and journalists specializing in this issue.
Mr. Terasaki clarified SGI’s opposition to the death penalty, stating: “Our core teachings are deeply rooted in the fundamental value of unfailing respect for the dignity of human life. Our organization therefore has maintained an uncompromising stance against the death penalty. Capital punishment is an issue deeply concerned with the broader theme of respect for life, and the State’s rationale for killing cannot be accepted as an exception.”
George F. Kain, associate professor at Western Connecticut State University and Director of Training for the Police Commissioners Association of Connecticut, reported on the 25-year campaign that led to the abolition of the death penalty in his state. He identified three key factors in its success: firstly, family members of murder victims speaking out against the death penalty, secondly, law enforcement officials realizing that it did not necessarily make them safer, and thirdly, the involvement of religious groups in the campaign.
In Italy, on November 29, a representative of SGI-Italy was among panelists invited to participate in a conference calling for the abolition of the death penalty held at the University of Teramo in Teramo City. The conference was sponsored by the local chapter of Amnesty International. Other panelists included Antonio Marchesi, President of Amnesty International Italy, and a representative from the Community of Sant’Egidio.
The conference began with a dance performance expressing the emotional intensity of the death penalty debate and concluded with a discussion on the futility of the death penalty as a deterrent to violence and crime, and its role in creating a culture that devalues life.
[Adapted from a report by the SGI Office of Public Information (SGI-OPI) and an article on the SGI-Italy website; photos courtesy of SGI-OPI and Teramoweb.it]
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