Event review ~ Don’t Kill in Our Names

Posted: June 26, 2010 in Event Review

Reviewed by Amnesty G48 member Claire O’Connell

Don’t Kill in Our Names – murder victims’ families speak out against the death penalty

Monday, 21 June 2010, Performance Hall of History and Culture Center of Korean Buddhism, Jogye Temple
Event co-hosted by Amnesty International Korea

Arguments in support of the death penalty frequently hold that the family of the victim will experience a sense of closure and justice if the perpetrator of the crime is put to death themselves. But what if these same families do not agree that personal peace cannot be obtained through yet another murder?

Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights (MVFHR) is an international, non-governmental organization of family members of murder victims and family members of the executed, all of whom oppose the death penalty.

They are currently on a tour of Taiwan, Korea and Japan and on Monday 21st June, a packed audience at the Performance Hall of Jogye Temple, Seoul heard the heartbreaking personal stories of two American fathers and a Korean mother who have all lost children. There was also a musical performance by Soon-kwan Hong and a presentation of photos taken on death row in the US and Taiwan by Toshi Kazama.

Bud Welch, whose daughter Julie was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995 spoke of how, despite his initial rage and grief, he eventually came to feel that executing Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, who were responsible for the killings, would not help him in his healing process. Robert Curley’s son Jeffrey died aged 10, in horrific circumstances, murdered by two paedophiles. Curley was initially an outspoken supporter of the the death penalty although eventually his position changed and he began to advocate for abolition as he came to understand more about the realities of the death penalty in the US.

The third speaker was a Korean woman named Kim Bok Soon whose daughter was killed by her own fiance, who then took his own life, and so her story related less to the death penalty but she articulted the deep feelings loss and guilt she had in relation to the event. This led onto an appreciation of some of the problems that exist with encouraging Korean families of murder victims to voice any opposition that they might have to the death penalty. There is a sense of shame and inability to speak out. It is in this regard that individuals such as Bud Welch and Robert Curley may be very important in supporting them. Indeed Welch sees this as a role he can fulfill and pledged his wish to return to Korea in the future. Welch also emphasized that South Korea, having recently ended a moratorium on the death penalty in place since 1997 is in a key position to now lead the rest of North-East Asia by abolishing capital punishment entirely.

Translation to and from English was provided via ear monitors, which is an excellent idea. This was however a presentation primarily aimed at a Korean audience and all the accompanying literature was in Korean. It would be nice to see translated material in the future, although these things have budgetary constraints. It can be a battle for non-Korean speaking foreigners to access much indepth information about the use of the death penalty in Korea and the hurdles to abolition, whether cultural, social or political. Capital Punishment is both a Korean issue and an international problem.

It was inevitably highly emotional to hear these families’ stories but MVFHR is clearly doing great work and it was a pleasure to hear about it.

You can find out more and read personal testimonies from murder victims families here. For a review published in the English edition of the Hankyoreh of the visit of the US delegation to Korea, visit here.

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