South Korea’s changing capital punishment policy: The road from de facto to formal abolition

By Byung-Sun Cho / Punishment and Society, on 8 September 2020

The most recent executions in South Korea took place in December 1997, when 23 people were executed at short notice on the same day. Similarly, nineteen executions occurred in 1995 and 15 in 1994, in each instance occurring all on the same day. These group executions seem to reflect cultural factors that monthly statistics alone do not capture. No executions have occurred since 1998, but this de facto suspension has not been reinforced by law. Since 1999, lawmakers have thrice endorsed a bill favoring life imprisonment without parole in place of the death penalty, but each time the proposal has stalled and failed to move forward. The need remains to develop a culturally appropriate pro-abolition argument that could persuade the Korean public that the death penalty is unworkable and wrong. On 21 January 2007, in the Inhyeokdang case, the Korean Court acquitted 8 persons who had been executed 32 years earlier. The hope is that, in light of strong arguments based on the risk to innocent persons and the irreversibility of capital punishment, Korea will effectively transition from de facto to formal abolition.

  • Document type Article
  • Countries list Republic of Korea
  • Themes list Trend Towards Abolition,