It is 20 years ago today that the first Human Rights Day celebrated the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
A huge amount has been achieved since then in many countries around the world, but not everything has changed for the better.
The 20th year of Human Rights Day is also the 45th year of the imprisonment of Hakamada Iwao, a former Japanese professional boxer who was arrested following the brutal murder of the manager of the factory where he worked, along with his wife and children.
After arrest, Hakamada was held for nearly 3 weeks without access to a lawyer. After what he says were strings of beatings and threats, Hakamada finally signed a confession, which he later retracted.
At trial, all but one of the 45 documents said by the prosecution to be confessions were found to have been forced. Despite this, and the lack of any other evidence against him, Hakamada was found guilty, and sentenced to death.
Kumamoto Norimichi, one of the judges at his trial resigned shortly afterwards, in his words “unable to bear the burden of conscience” of passing the sentence on such scant evidence.
Hakamada has remained on death row ever since, and under Japanese law he may be executed at any time. He is now 74.
I have been to Japan many times, and for me, the contrast between the peaceful, beautiful Japanese people, and the barbarism of the death penalty could not be more acute.
After 45 years in prison, much of it in solitary confinement, Hakamada Iwao has the chance of a retrial. To help make this happen, please sign Amnesty International’s petition.