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Many countries in Asia, including Singapore, impose the death penalty for non-capital and non-violent crimes, including drug related crimes. The death penalty is the ultimate cruel inhumane and degrading punishment, and violates the right to life. It is irrevocable and can be inflicted on the innocent. It has never been shown to deter crime more effectively than other punishments. Every death sentence is an affront to human dignity, every execution a symptom of, not a solution to, a culture of violence. Think Centre calls for a moratorium on the death penalty and to seek alternative criminal punishments.
The death penalty violates the right to life and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The death penalty is an inherently unjust and arbitrary punishment, however heinous the crime for which it is inflicted. As the death penalty is more likely to be imposed on the poor and less educated. They are more vulnerable than average. This inconsistent and disproportionate application of death penalty is viewed as “arbitrary deprivation of life”.
Any humane criminal justice system could not continue to justify the retention of the death penalty based on retribution. More importance should be given to rehabilitation and deterrence. The criminal justice system must not be driven by retributions only as it will threaten the due process. The government should inform people of viable alternatives to the death penalty in line with international human rights law.
Against Capital Punishment
Cesare Beccaria, 1738-1794, argues against the death sentence as a less effective deterrent than a long sentence in his essay “On Crimes and Punishments” (1764).
Beccaria argues that the death penalty in fact has bad effects on society by reducing their sensitivity to human suffering. Potential criminals see it as one more method of perpetuating tyranny. Although capital punishment is practiced in most countries, it is still an error that in time will become rare. He urges rulers to adopt his stance against capital punishment, and predicts that this will give them a lasting fame as peacemakers.
Death Penalty – Global situation 2002
Abolitionist countries that have abolished or decline to apply death penalty is 130. Of these: 78 are totally abolitionist; 14 are abolitionist for ordinary crimes; 2 are committed to abolition as members of the Council of Europe and in the meanwhile observe a moratorium; 6 countries are currently observing a moratorium and 30 are de facto abolitionist, not having executed any death sentences in the past ten years.
Retentionist countries total 66, though not all of these apply capital punishment regularly. In 2002, 34 of these countries carried out 4,078 executions, a slight decrease from the 2001 total of 4,700. Asia carried out the majority of these executions in 2002:
3,925. Of these 3,138 were carried out in China. The American continent would be death penalty free were it not for the 71 executions carried out in the United States.
Drug-related offences in Retentionist Singapore
In 1997, those arrested for drug offenses numbered 4750. Reports indicate that drug addiction is disproportionately high among poor, unemployed, Malay males with low education`. Drug addiction continues to be a serious problem among the poor and low educated in Singapore despite harsh anti-drugs laws. Persistent drug addicts who have been admitted more than twice to a drugs rehabilitation centre are treated as criminals who may be imprisoned for up to 13 years and caned. The death penalty is mandatory for anyone, over the age of 18, found in possession of more than 15 grams of heroin, 30 grams of morphine or cocaine, or 500 grams of cannabis. It is presumed to be trafficking in drug, unless the contrary can be proved. At least 340 people – mostly drug offenders – have been hanged in Singapore between 1991 and 2000. In 1975, the death penalty became mandatory for murder and trafficking in controlled drugs.
Drug addiction will continue as long as the social conditions pushing it exists. When these conditions are alleviated the demand for illicit drugs will drop. Society should give the addicts an opportunity to integrate and provide access to decent jobs. Society is, partly, responsible for this unhealthy trend! It seems drug abusers, those in possession of drugs and minor traffickers, are put to death or imprisoned.
Consider death penalty moratorium and abolition legislation.
Where miscarriages of justice have occurred and wrongly convicted and executed – the death sentence is too late for an appeal. “Every punishment, which does not arise from absolute neccessity, is tyrannical” says Montesquieu.
Civil Society Organizations should call for moratorium on executions. Think Centre hopes to launch a Moratorium Campaign to inform the public and gather support for the moratorium on death penalty. Legislation should be introduced in parliament to establish a moratorium on executions
Think Centre seeks the abolition of the death penalty because it believes that state sanctioned killing denies the right to life and denies the human capacity for change. In the name of victims’ rights the death penalty creates more victims.
Rational and Humane approach
A more rational approach will save more lives. A change in approach to drug-related problem is needed. Statistics indicate that out of 340 people executed between 1991 and 2000, 247 had been convicted of drug trafficking. Drug addiction is disproportionately high among young people coming from broken families, the poor and the unemployed with low education – the excluded people of Singapore. Many of those convicted for drug offense and face the death penalty are poor with lower education. We may still wish to turn the face the other way but the death penalty remains with human mistakes and discrimination. This inhumane practice remains a part of our justice system.
Think Centre calls to remove the mandatory capital punishment for simple possession of drugs.
The mandatory death sentence must be removed. The laws have to be changed to permit judicial discretion and fairness for drug cases.
Under the current practices judges are helpless to do anything about the disproportional number of drug addicts who are young school dropouts, poor and with broken family background. They face heavy sentencing and death.
A drug addict or a “runner” could be serving long-term prison sentences or sentence to death. Drug addicts are used and abused by traffickers. The police target the drug addicts as incidence of crime is higher among addicts.
All evidence should be properly disclosed in capital cases – no withholding of evidence – which can lead to wrongful convictions.
All detainees should get a fair look at evidence against them to review and rebut the evidence in the course of due process.
No secret evidence from informers should be used against detainees. The CNB and police should end the practice of using undisclosed evidence against the addicts.
There is a strong need to challenge evidence based on suggestive interviews, expose biased police investigation, and track down evidence withheld by the prosecution.
Where miscarriages of justice have occurred and wrongly convicted and executed – the death sentence is too late for an appeal.
Think Centre’s call to right to life in connection with capital punishment is guided by the desirability of abolition of the death penalty which has been expressed on numerous occasions by the UN General Assembly, the Human Rights Committee, the Economic and Social Council and Security Council[ in its resolutions 808 (1993) of 22
February 1993 and 955 (1994) of 8 November 1994]
Background information: A public interest case
Vignes Mourthi, 22, a machine operator, from Malaysia, was sentenced to death for trafficking 27.65 grams (0.97 ounces) of heroin. Mourthi thought he was delivering “incense stones”. His family maintained he was innocent. Mourthi with little education speaks Tamil and does not understand English – the trial was in English [translated into Tamil].
Mourthi pleaded for a retrial citing the possible miscarriage of justice. “I’ve not committed any offense. Everyone has to die one day and I’m prepared to die, but I’m asking for a retrial”
Vignes Mourthi’s final appeal was dismissed on 25 September. In dismissing the appeal Chief Justice Yong Pung How reportedly told Vignes’s lawyer, “You can say he is an innocent man but as far as the law is concerned, he has been found guilty and convicted. You better say goodbye to him, that’s all you can do.” Vignes Mourthi and Moorthy A/L Angappan were hanged at 6 am on 26 September at Changi Prison.
In a statement to the court, Mr Jeyaretnam had said evidence given by a police officer that allegedly recorded a conversation between the accused and himself bore no date and could have been written later. The handwritten police transcript of a conversation between Mourthi and an undercover officer used as evidence in the trial shouldn’t have been admissible in court. Mourthi had denied the conversation took place. The transcript could have been fabricated because it was not dated and should have been read to and signed by Mourthi. Is Mourthi a victim of miscarriage of justice?
“Singapore 280. The UN “Special Rapporteur sent an urgent appeal to the Government after being informed of death sentences imposed on Abdullah A. Rahman, a Malaysian national, and Lim Choon Chye, both reportedly for drug trafficking. In both cases, witnesses were said to have given testimony indicating that the two men were not involved in the crimes for which they had been convicted, but the Court of Appeal allegedly refused to reopen the cases on the grounds of this new evidence (21 July 1994). At the time the present report was finalized, no reply had been received from the Government.”
“376. Reports were also received concerning death sentences imposed after proceedings in which the defendants did not fully benefit from the rights and guarantees for a fair trial contained in the international instruments” Singapore was one of the concern countries named by the rapporteur.
“118. An immutable fact remains that the loss of life is irreversible and judicial error irreparable. A wide range of experts in sciences such as criminology, sociology and psychology have expressed doubts concerning the deterrent effect of capital punishment. Therefore, Governments of countries in which the death penalty is still enforced are urged to deploy every effort that could lead to its abolition, the desirability of which has repeatedly been affirmed by the General Assembly.” E/CN.4/1997/60, 24 December 1996, Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Report by the Special Rapporteur, Mr. Bacre Waly Ndiaye, submitted pursuant to commission on Human Rights resolution 1996/74
For more Information:
President, Think Centre
HP: 9479 1906
email: [email protected]fic.net.sg