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MARUAH supports call to suspend executions; ACLS calls for MDP to be abolished

Dear Editor,

On 11 November 2010, the United Nations Human Rights Committee adopted a resolution calling for a moratorium on executions. The resolution was adopted by 107 votes in favour, 38 against with 36 abstentions at the UN General Assembly's Third Committee in New York. The full text of the document is [here].

MARUAH has, in its submission to the Human Rights Council on the Universal Periodic Review of Singapore earlier this month (see here), called for the immediate repeal of all instances of the mandatory death penalty in Singapore, as well as a more general review of the death penalty and its effectiveness, as well as the criminal trial process in capital cases.

In the meantime, MARUAH supports the call for an immediate moratorium on all executions.

We also note the following passages from the UN document –

1. The third (amendment), sponsored by Singapore, (document A/C.3/65/L.63) would insert the following as a new operative paragraph 1: “Reaffirms the sovereign right of all countries to develop their own legal system, including determining appropriate legal penalties, in accordance with their obligations under international law.”

MARUAH affirms that Singapore, like any other sovereign member of the UN, has the right to develop its own legal system. However, that right has to be subject to international human rights law and norms, and no country has the sovereign right to violate human rights. MARUAH contends that customary international law has changed such that it now prohibits the death penalty, and in particular the mandatory death penalty, in which case Singapore’s continued use of the death penalty, would not be consistent with international law.

2. The representative of Singapore said there was no international consensus on the death penalty. It was not a human rights issue, but a criminal justice matter allowed under international law. Singapore and other retentionist countries had tried to work on the language of the main text with the cosponsors, but some had refused to engage in dialogue. Why was that so?

Some countries wanted things either their way, or not at all. The amendment was critical in balancing the tone of the draft resolution. The question today was not about death penalty per se; it was about the sovereign right of a country to decide the issue by itself.

MARUAH reiterates that while countries ought to have the sovereign right to develop its own legal system that right has to be subject to international human rights laws and norms.

3. Taking action on the third and last proposed amendment, the Committee heard from the representative of Singapore, its main sponsor, who read the text in full. That all countries had a sovereign right to develop their own legal systems was a basic truth, she said. The amendment was simple, factual and balanced, and upheld the principle that a State itself must choose its own path of development. That was the crux of the issue.

While her delegation appreciated the effort by some co-sponsors to work on the text, a “select group of co-sponsors” did not want to. If the intention of the resolution was to open a dialogue on the death penalty, then the amendment should be supported.

MARUAH believes that dialogue on the abolishment of the death penalty must continue and that Singapore, as a sovereign nation, must as part of its own development adopt behavior that is in step with that of other developed nations. This necessarily means that Singapore should immediately adopt a moratorium on the death penalty, while repealing the mandatory death penalty and undertaking a broader review of the death penalty and its effectiveness, as well as the criminal trial process in capital cases.

For more information, please read -

- United Nations

- Amnesty International

- MARUAH’s UPR Submission on the Death Penalty

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Read also: UN votes once again to end executions.

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From Today, 16 November 2010:

ACLS again urges Govt to abolish mandatory death sentence

SINGAPORE - The Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore (ACLS) has again called for the abolition of the mandatory death sentence - this time in the latest issue of its newsletter, Pro Bono.

"The ACLS is in favour of the death penalty for the offence of murder. However, the ACLS is against the death sentence being mandatory," it said in an editorial.

In the run-up to changes to the Penal Code in 2007, the ACLS was among a number of groups advocating for discretion over the death penalty.

In its newsletter, it noted the imposition of a mandatory death sentence is arbitrary. The ACLS cited Sir Dennis Byron, Chief Justice of the Caribbean islands of St Vincent and the Grenadines and St Lucia, as saying: "If the death penalty is appropriate for the worst case of homicide, then it must surely be excessive punishment for the offender convicted of murder whose case is far removed from the worst case."

It also pointed out that a fair hearing is denied when no opportunity is given to the accused to offer mitigating circumstances before sentencing. Mitigation, the ACLS added, is "the normal procedure" in all other trials for non-capital offences.

Also, the ACLS said, sentencing is "a matter of law and part of the administration of justice which is the preserve of the Judiciary".

"Parliament should, therefore, only prescribe the maximum sentence and leave the courts to administer justice by sentencing offenders according to the gravity and circumstances of the case," it said.

The ACLS pointed out that under Article 93 of the Singapore Constitution, the judicial power is vested in the courts. It added that India, from which Singapore's Penal Code is derived, has since 1955 abolished the mandatory death penalty, as have the former British colonies of Kenya and Uganda.

"The ACLS urges the Government to abolish the mandatory death sentence for murder and to allow the courts discretion in sentencing convicted murderers. After all, our High Court judges have undergone a rigorous selection process to be chosen to exercise the judicial power of Singapore. And on their appointments, the judges have all affirmed or sworn to administer the law according to right and conscience."