South Korea’s Highest Court Upholds Death Penalty

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

SEOUL, South Korea – Despite voices calling the holding by the highest South Korean court upholding death penalty a setback in constitutional court ruling, South Korea’s Constitutional Court ruled that the capital punishment system prescribed by the country’s criminal code does not violate its Constitution.

This five to four ruling comes 13 years after the last execution and amidst the ongoing national debate on whether to abolish capital punishment.  The Court specifically stated that the South Korean death penalty system does not violate “human dignity and worth” as protected under the Constitution.

Amnesty International said it was “deeply disappointed” by the Court’s decision, adding that the organization considers South Korea to be abolitionist in practice since the country has not carried out any executions since February 1998.

Amnesty’s Asia-Pacific Deputy Programme Director Roseann Rife said, “This is a major setback for South Korea and runs counter to the current abolitionist trend in the country…Any move backwards on this issue is extremely damaging to South Korea’s international reputation.”

Rife also commented that South Korea, as an economic leader, should also “lead by example of fully respecting every individual’s right to life.”

However, the Court stated that the capital punishment system is a “type of punishment anticipated by the Constitution.”

Moreover, the Court said, “The public good, including the protection of the lives of citizens through crime prevention and realization of justice, is not lesser than the protection of the right to life of a person who has committed a heinous crime.”

The Korean Bar Association (KBA) responded to the Court’s ruling by commenting that abolition of the death penalty is “not simply an improvement of the criminal justice system.”

KBA also released a statement saying, “It is highly regrettable that the Constitutional Court could not go so far as to issue ruling of unconstitutionality when South Korea has been classified as an abolitionist country in practice.”

South Korea currently has 57 people on death row.
For more information, please see:

Amnesty International – South Korea Death Penalty Abolition Set Back By Constitutional Court Ruling – 25 February 2010

The Hankyoreh – Constitutional Court upholds the death penalty – 25 February 2010

The Washington Post – South Korea court upholds death penalty – 25 February 2010

Author: Impunity Watch Archive