Death penalty will make Singapore an “outlier nation”: Human Rights Watch

700px-Hrw_logo.svgSingapore’s execution of Mohammad bin Kadar on April 17, 2015, should be the last use of capital punishment in the country, Human Rights Watch said today.

Singapore has about 25 people on death row. At least two, recently sentenced, could face execution in the coming months. In place of these and other potential executions, Singapore should join the 117 United Nations member countries that in 2014 voted for a global moratorium on the death penalty and move ultimately to abolish it.

“Singapore should realize that its use of the death penalty makes it an increasing outlier among nations,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s a barbaric practice that has no place in a modern state.”

Singapore authorities hanged 39-year-old Mohammad bin Kadar after he spent eight years on death row for the 2005 murder of his neighbor, a 69-year-old woman. The court determined that Mohammad bin Kadar, who had a borderline IQ of 76 and was in a drug-induced state, knew what he was doing when he stabbed the victim repeatedly, establishing he had an “intention to kill,” which under Singapore law made the death penalty mandatory.

Image from Zaobao, provided by Singapore Police Force
Mohammad bin Kadar (image – Zaobao, provided by Singapore Police Force)

Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extra-judicial executions at the time said in reference to a 2005 drug case in Singapore that having a mandatory death penalty violates international legal standards. Making such a penalty mandatory, thus eliminating the discretion of the court “makes it impossible to take into account mitigating or extenuating circumstances and eliminates any individual determination of an appropriate sentence in a particular case.… The adoption of such a black-and-white approach is entirely inappropriate where the life of the accused is at stake.”

In November 2012, Singapore’s parliament revised the law to restrict the kinds of drug and murder convictions for which the death penalty is mandatory. In murder cases, death sentences are not mandatory if the convicted murderer had “no outright intention to kill.” Mohammad bin Kadar appealed his death sentence on the grounds that the law had been amended, but his appeal was rejected.

According to Amnesty International, since the laws were amended, courts have reviewed and eventually commuted death sentences to life imprisonment and caning in at least nine cases. However, the law still provides for mandatory death sentences, in contravention of international standards.

At least two of those on death row in Singapore, Kho Jabing and Michael Galing, received mandatory death sentences after being convicted in separate murder cases. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all cases because of its inherent cruelty and irreversibility and urges the government to commute the sentences of all those held on death row.

In July 2012, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean reiterated the Singaporean government’s longstanding position on the death penalty, saying that “the death penalty has been an effective deterrent and an appropriate punishment for very serious offences, and [Singaporeans] largely support it. As part of our penal framework, it has contributed to keeping crime and the drug situation under control.”

In its December 18, 2007 resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty, the UN General Assembly stated that “there is no conclusive evidence of the death penalty’s deterrent value and that any miscarriage or failure of justice in the death penalty’s implementation is irreversible and irreparable.”

“How many people will Singapore execute before they understand that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent to crime?” Robertson said. “Singapore should join with the UN secretary-general in recognizing that the ‘death penalty has no place in the 21st century.’”

More from Human Rights Watch reporting on Singapore.