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“End Crime, Not Life: Upholding Human Rights, Social Justice and Abolition of Death Penalty”

11 - 13 Nov 2016 | Workshop / Seminar / Training | Myanmar | CSO Event

With eight retentionist countries out of 10 ASEAN Member States, Southeast Asia is a region where capital punishment remains a general standard, with strong roots in local history, cultures and religions/beliefs. There is a need to have more campaigns or even to multiply the existing campaigns for the total abolition of Death Penalty in ASEAN. Unfortunately, Myanmar still retains death penalty as the maximum punishment in its judicial system. Despite this, we believe that it is not too late to push for its abolition to ensure that every person’s right to life is respected and fulfilled.

In this light, the Centre for Youth and Social Harmony (CYSH) is partnering with the Coalition for the Abolition of Death Penalty in ASEAN (CADPA) to strengthen public awareness about the inhumane cruelty and irrelevance of Death Penalty as a mode of extreme punishment in Myanmar. On 11-13 November 2016 (Friday to Sunday), Yangon will host two major events under the title “End Crime, Not Life: Upholding Human Rights, Social Justice and Abolition of Death Penalty”. The objective of this campaign is to raise social awareness in Myanmar on the reality of death penalty practices which is killing a human being to various targets such youth, students, people in general and decision makers. The expectation is that public can promote the abolition of death penalty in their respected country and in ASEAN in general.

The programme is as follows:

11-13 November 2016: Photo Exhibition by Mr. Toshi Kazama, Premiere New York based Photographer (Myanmar Plaza Promotional Hall (Ground Floor) – Information on Mr. Kazama is attached to this letter.

13 November 2016 Panel Discussion on the Campaign for the Abolition of Death Penalty in Myanmar (14:00-17:00 Sapphire Swan Ball Room, Yangon International Hotel Compound)

We cordially invite you to attend the opening ceremony of the exhibition at 11:00-12:00 on 11 November 2016 at the Myanmar Plaza Mall Promotional Hall (Ground Floor) and the Panel Discussion on 13 November 2016.  Your participation and support will impact our efforts in ensuring the complete abolition of Death Penalty and the suffering of lives of those in death row.

Please confirm your attendance on or before 10 November (Noon) 2016. To respond and for inquiries please contact, Thet Swe Win at kothetsince1986@gmail.com or +95-9-7780 71455.

Thank you and we look forward to your participation and support!

Yours,

Thet Swe Win
Center for Youth and Social Harmony

About Mr. Toshi Kazama

A chance photographic project assignment for former United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor changed the life of New York-based Japanese photographer Toshi Kazama forever.  Kazama went to his first photo session of a young American on death row with considerable trepidation, not fearing for his personal safety but for entering into the presence of a monster.  That ‘monster’ turned out to be a normal-looking child with extremely limited intelligence.  As Kazama saw this young boy in front of him, “I couldn’t resist shaking his hand,  as I do with all my subjects. Then I hugged him. That changed my life forever”.

His photographs are always black and white, stark and bare, focussed on the instruments of state-sponsored execution or on those waiting for their lives to be ended by those instruments.  And while his photographs are eloquent enough on their own, Kazama is one of those rare visual artists whose words are even more articulate and impactful than his work.  A former commercial photographer, Kazama has now dedicated his life to the abolition of the death penalty.

Listening to Kazama talk about his objection to capital punishment, it is clear that he has thoroughly considered the death penalty, its sources and implications, and come to a comprehensive view as to why the death penalty is wrong.  For instance, he has noted that the death penalty falls heavily on the poor, the uneducated, the marginalised, persons of colour.  The most common denominator among all of the death row inmates he has met is lack of love—troubled childhoods marked by poverty, single parents and abusive relationships.

Through discussions with families of the victims of death row inmates’ crimes, Kazama has learned that a very small minority of the families get any real satisfaction out of the execution of the perpetrators.  “Of all the victims I have met, none of them said they have been healed by the execution. Rather, they say it becomes even harder to deal with their emotions since everyone else assumes they have now had closure. The victims’ families will never have closure”.  He has also met, talked with, and hugged the prison workers charged with carrying out executions and observed “they are decidedly antipathetic towards their grim tasks, often resentful of those who advocate for or impose capital punishment at far distance from the ugly business at hand.  And recent advancements in forensic sciences together with increased scrutiny of death penalty cases have uncovered scores of mistakes, errors and unsound convictions”.

Through discussions with families of the victims of death row inmates’ crimes, Kazama has learned that a very small minority of the families get any real satisfaction out of the execution of the perpetrators.  “Of all the victims I have met, none of them said they have been healed by the execution. Rather, they say it becomes even harder to deal with their emotions since everyone else assumes they have now had closure. The victims’ families will never have closure”.  He has also met, talked with, and hugged the prison workers charged with carrying out executions and observed “they are decidedly antipathetic towards their grim tasks, often resentful of those who advocate for or impose capital punishment at far distance from the ugly business at hand.  And recent advancements in forensic sciences together with increased scrutiny of death penalty cases have uncovered scores of mistakes, errors and unsound convictions”.

As Kazama started this project, he says, “like many, I did not know the reality of the death penalty.  I had no clear opinion, but after I met my first death penalty inmate, I could no longer use that excuse.  No one directly involved with the death penalty is happy with it. Many others will express their opinions on it as an idea, or a philosophy. To me the death penalty is you and I killing a human being. I don’t want to kill a human being with my own hand. Do you?”

There is no moral justification for the taking of a life by anyone, and society learns nothing and progresses nowhere by executing persons, regardless of how awful they might be or how heinous their crimes.  Kazama believes just the opposite to be true—that we can learn more from the exercise of forgiveness and the study of why terrible crimes are committed in order to lessen the chances of them happening in the future, as well as to learn more about our own humanity. His work brings those questions alive.