Currently, an urgent application is being heard in the Court of Appeal on the inordinate delay resulting in cruel and inhuman punishment. However, according to M Ravi a human rights advocate from Singapore, the court of appeal has dismissed Chijioke’s constitutional challenge on the ground that Article 9(1) of Singapore’s constitution does not prohibit cruel and inhuman punishment and degrading treatment as previously held in the case of Yong Vui Kong in 2010.
In 2007, Chijioke was found in possession of more than 2.6 kilograms of cannabis. Anyone found in possession of more than 500 grams In Singapore is automatically suspected of drug trafficking and it is for the defendant to prove innocence rather than for the prosecution to prove guilt. When in 2013, Singapore’s mandatory death penalty was extended to drug trafficking, Chijioke’s sentence became a death sentence.
Chijioke has endured more than 9 punishing years in prison. There is no question that he is not being punished for his crime. That is important. Indeed, studies indicate that people are more deterred if there is a high risk of being caught, than by a harsh punishment if apprehension seems highly unlikely.
In accordance with international treaties Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the ‘ICCPR’) the death penalty if applied at all should only be applicable in the case of the most serious crimes, namely culpable homicides and murder. Drug related crimes are not in this category.
Furthermore, even though Singapore has not ratified the ICCPPR, it does not mean that Singapore could easily use the death penalty as mandatory for drug trafficking offences. Again this is in violation of international standards that require that the circumstances of a particular crime and defendant should be taken into consideration in each case where capital punishment is to be applied (Art. 6 and Art. 7 of the ICCPR). Does it make sense that the same sentence applies for someone in possession of small quantities of cannabis as a drug lord?
One of the main justifications provided for such harsh punishment is that it acts as a deterrent. But we know that this is not the case because many executions have taken place already in the region. None have resulted in a fall off in drug use. On the contrary, data from the Indonesian Drug User Network (known by its Indonesian acronym PKNI) shows that after the first and second wave of executions due to drug trafficking, drug use actually spiked.
Moreover, some years ago Professor Franklin Zimmering, Professor Jeffery Fagan, and Professor David Johnson compared the homicide rates between Singapore and Hong Kong. The rates of homicide in both countries have been falling at almost the same rate over the years, despite Singapore having the mandatory death penalty, while in Hong Kong does not apply the death penalty.
Singapore, as all other ASEAN countries, is a member of the United Nations. As such it has signed up to Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,which states that ‘everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person’, and to Article 5 of the Declaration, which states that ‘no one shall be subject to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’. The death penalty is the ultimate denial of the right to life, a violation of fundamental human rights.
CADPA is working to make ASEAN part of a wider trend in the world to abolish the death sentence and to look instead to build more effective and humane criminal justice systems. CADPA has launched a campaign called ‘End Crime not Life’, with the aim to keep us focused on the root causes of crimes. It is time for all of us to stand up and be counted in the movement towards a restorative justice system that fairly punishes offenders and takes on the responsibility to repair the harm committed against victims, their families and communities.
To find out more about out campaign, see www.endcrimenotlife or follow us on Facebook where you can learn more about several cases currently awaiting execution in ASEAN including another prisoner in Singapore, Prabhaakaran.
Update: The Court of Appeal dismissed an Urgent Criminal Motion filed by Chijioke’s lawyer, Mr Joseph Chen and will be set to be hanged tomorrow dawn.