Conversations on mandatory death penalty must be based on facts

~by: Ravi Philemon~

On 1 February 2012, I wrote an article for TOC titled, 'Death penalty has contributed to low rates of drug use? Where's the proof?'. In that article I had said:

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,..

But as a TOC reader rightly pointed out, the Law Ministry's media release pointed to HRW's article, 'Singapore: Stop Hiding Behind Old Excuses' and not to HRW's report. 

The reader also pointed out that International Harm Reduction Agency (IHRA) in its report "The Death Penalty for Drugs Offences : Global Overview 2011", identified 12 states that imposed Mandatory Death Penalty for drug offences – Brunei, Egypt, Iran, Kuwait, Laos, Malaysia, Oman, Singapore, Sudan, Syria, UAE and Yemen; and that Taiwan, Japan and India were not on that list. 

I apologise for these oversights in that article. I agree that the conversations on mandatory death penalty, must be based on facts and that you cannot fight false assertions with false assertions.

But having said that, the crux of my earlier article is true. The most important part of that article being:

"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."

For even in the HRW article pointed out by the reader, HRW had said:

"The government also maintains mandatory death sentences for 20 drug-related offenses and judicial sentences that include caning, which amounts to torture. Both punishments should be banned for being in violation of international law…"

HRW had not said that capital punishment is prohibited by international law, but that mandatory death sentences for drug-related offenses are in violation of international law.

And also, even if IHRA had mentioned 12 countries that still had mandatory death penalty in its report, a cursory check with 'Death Penalty Worldwide' shows that Egypt and Oman do not have such laws now. And that organisation is unsure if mandatory death penalty is applied in Laos. But what's certain is that mandatory death penalty had been ruled as unconstitutional in the USA since 1976. 

If we look at the other countries mentioned in the report, Singapore stands with very few modern developed countries, in not setting aside or relaxing the mandatory death penalty.

Even if Singapore's Court of Appeal had ruled in Yong Vui Kong's case that just because the majority of States in the international community do not impose the mandatory death penalty (MDP) for drug trafficking, this does not make the prohibition against the MDP a rule of Customary International Law, the IHRA report states:

"Mandatory death sentences have been criticised as being ‘over-inclusive’ and ‘unavoidably violat[ing] human rights law’. In 2007, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions wrote, ‘In such cases, individualized sentencing by the judiciary is required in order to prevent cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and the arbitrary deprivation of life.’ Such mandatory sentences have also been criticised by the former UN Commission on Human Rights, the UN Human Rights Committee and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, as well as by numerous national courts."

I want to thank that TOC reader for pointing me in the right direction, so that I can put forth an argument based on hard facts in joiing the many voices that call for a moratorium on the mandatory death penalty in Singapore.