Death penalty serves no demonstrable criminal justice purpose

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The International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA) has expressed its deep regret at the decision of the Singapore Court of Appeals to retain the mandatory death penalty for drug offences, a judgment that forecasts the execution of Yong Vui Kong for an offence committed while he was only a teenager. Yong Vui Kong today lost his appeal against his conviction in 2008 of smuggling 47 grams of heroin into Singapore.

“Today’s unfortunate decision places Singapore on the extreme fringe of the international community by keeping the country as one of the few that impose a mandatory death sentence for drugs,” said Rick Lines, Deputy Director of IHRA and the co-author of a forthcoming international report on the death penalty and drug offences being released next week.

“Numerous UN human rights monitors have found both the mandatory death penalty generally, and the death penalty for drugs specifically, to violate international human rights law. We regret that the Court has chosen to support a practice that not only violates human rights, but that serves no demonstrable criminal justice purpose.”

The mandatory death penalty for drugs was introduced in Singapore in a 1975 Amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1973. Subsequently, Singapore earned a reputation as one of the highest per capita executioners in the world – with the vast majority of the condemned being drug offenders. According to Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs, between 1999 and 2003, 110 of 138 executions were carried out for drug offences.

Next Monday May 17 IHRA is releasing a report The Death Penalty for Drug Offences – Global overview 2010 to be officially launched on the opening day of the 19th session of the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, taking place in Vienna next week.

The report is the first detailed country by country overview of the death penalty for drugs, monitoring both national legislation and state practice of enforcement. The report points out that of the states worldwide that retain the death penalty, 32 jurisdictions maintain laws that prescribe the death penalty for drug offences, Singapore being one of them.

Singapore has a mandatory death sentence for anyone found guilty of importing, exporting or trafficking in more than 500 grams of cannabis, 200 grams of cannabis resin or more than 1,000 grams of cannabis mixture; trafficking in more than 30 grams of cocaine; trafficking in more than 15 grams of heroin; and trafficking in excess of 250 grams of methamphetamine.

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Press release issued by the International Harm Reduction Association

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