Death penalty has contributed to low rates of drug use? Where's the proof?

~by: Ravi Philemon~

I refer to the Law Ministry's media release refuting Human Rights Watch's (HRW) country report for Singapore. In its media release the Law Ministry said, " HRW also made false assertions. For example, contrary to assertions in its news article1, capital punishment is not prohibited by international law".

Although I did not find that particular assertion in HRW's country report, I found this, ' Singapore continued to implement mandatory death sentences for some 20 drug-related offenses in the face of repeated criticism by UN human rights bodies and experts'.

Another report published by International Harm Reduction Association, 'The death Penalty for Drug Offences and International Support for Drug enforcement' (which is linked in HRW's website) states, '"The death penalty for drug offences is a violation of international human rights law. Although capital punishment is not absolutely prohibited under international law, its application is limited in significant ways. Article 6(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that the penalty of death may only be applied to the ‘most serious crimes’".

HRW's assertion on the death sentence in its country report, is I believe, meant to draw attention to the 'mandatory' aspect of the death penalty and how it is applied to drug related offences here in Singapore.

In its media release the Law Ministry said, ' A large number of countries, including many modern, developed countries (like the US) impose the punishment. In Singapore, capital punishment has contributed to low rates of crime and drug use; and is overwhelmingly supported by Singaporeans.'

It's true that although 16 states and the District of Columbia have abolished death penalty in the United States of America, it is still practiced in the other states of the USA. The mandatory death penalty though has been ruled as unconstitutional since 1976 in that country.

Only 5 countries in the world have mandatory death penalty – Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Japan and India. In India it is reserved for murder by a convict serving a life sentence.  In Japan it is limited to instigation to a foreign aggression. In Taiwan the mandatory death penalty has recently been relaxed to a large extent. Which means that Singapore and Malaysia remain the only two countries which have not set aside or relaxed the mandatory death penalty.

Professor Michael Hor who teaches at the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law said in an interview in 2010, 'we must also be clear, on the other hand, that none of this proves that the mandatory death penalty does not work. We simply do not have, in my view, convincing reasons to believe that it does'.

I agree with Professor Hor. There is no convincing reason to believe that mandatory death penalty has contributed to low rates of drug use; or that it is overwhelmingly supported by Singaporeans.

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