SINGAPORE — In an open letter to Singaporean authorities published today (27 Oct), the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) reiterated that Singapore’s practices concerning the death penalty fail to comply with international human rights law and standards.
The IBAHRI and ICJ have previously issued statements calling on the Singaporean authorities to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty and to cease using cost sanctions against lawyers representing death-row inmates.
“We respectfully refute the MinLaw and MHA position that there is no basis to assert that the imposition of capital punishment for drug offences is a breach of international law. We consider that this assertion is plainly wrong.”
“First, as the United Nations Human Rights Office has affirmed, the use of the death penalty, in general, as opposed to its use with respect to drug-related offences, “is not consistent with the right to life and the right to live free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. There is growing consensus for universal abolition of the death penalty. Some 170 States have abolished or introduced a moratorium on the death penalty either in law or in practice.”
In the open letter which was also sent to Mr K Shanmugam, the Minister for MHA and MinLaw, the IBAHRI and ICJ underscored that:
- Capital punishment is never permissible for drug-related offences under international law because drug offences do not meet the ‘most serious crimes’ threshold;
- Imposing cost sanctions on death row lawyers has obstructed the right of death row inmates to effective legal representation and access to justice;
- Discrimination also includes indirect discrimination, where an action or policy has an unjustifiable disparate impact upon a group based on a protected characteristic; and
- There is no evidence that the death penalty deters crimes more effectively than any other form of serious punishment.
The IBAHRI and ICJ in their joint letter, call on Singapore to join the worldwide trajectory towards the abolition of the death penalty, starting with an immediate introduction of a moratorium on all sentences and executions with a view to abolition in line with repeated Resolutions of the UN General Assembly calling for such measures.
The IBAHRI and ICJ also emphasise that they remain available for constructive dialogue and engagement with all relevant stakeholders, such as representatives of MinLaw and MHA, with the aim of contributing to Singapore aligning its laws, policies, and practices with international human rights law and standards with regards to its use of the death penalty.
Vindicated For Cost Orders By Singapore Courts
Responding to the open letter on a Facebook post, M Ravi, an anti-death penalty and human rights lawyer in Singapore, said that he is encouraged to have been vindicated “once again” for the “humungous” personal costs of S$71,000 ordered against him by the Singapore Courts.
The two organisations’ joint letter noted how serious obstacles have been placed on the capacity of lawyers representing death row prisoners to carry out their professional functions.
“These include the imposition of personal cost orders against counsel under sections 356, 357 and 409 of the Criminal Procedure Code 2010, whereby lawyers who file applications that are “frivolous or vexatious or otherwise an abuse of the process of the court” may have cost sanctions imposed on them.”
“We regret the reports that the imposition of cost sanctions has, in practice, obstructed the right of death row inmates to effective legal representation and access to justice. As previously noted, the 24 death-row inmates who filed a lawsuit on 1 August 2022 were unable to secure legal representation despite approaching several lawyers, as the lawyers were allegedly afraid of adverse cost orders.”
Mr Ravi who had represented the 24 death-row inmates, has been the subject of various disciplinary tribunals and cost orders in relation to his cases defending death-row prisoners.
He wrote, “the sum of $71,000 is the highest amount ordered against any lawyer doing death penalty cases in the entire history of the commonwealth or for that matter any country that I know of which has a death penalty regime with a legal system like Singapore.”
“Surely, my personal cost orders enter the Guinness Book of World Records and Singapore holds the title for the wrong reasons.”
Singapore’s Zealous Approach To The Death Penalty
So far, 11 death-row prisoners are known to have been executed in Singapore this year despite calls for a moratorium on the sentences and a relook at the archaic punishment.
One prominent individual who spoke against the death penalty over the past year, is Sir Richard Branson, British billionaire and owner of Virgin Airlines.
Mr Branson had recently written in his blog on 10 Oct – World Day against Death Penalty – about his participation in a campaign to stop the execution of a Singapore death row inmate, Nagaenthran A/L K Dharmalingam who had a “well-documented intellectual disability”.
In his blog, Mr Branson also wrote that Nagaenthran – one of the 11 who had been executed this year – was sentenced to death for carrying 42.72 grams of heroin across the border, under immense pressure from drug dealers.
The blog post incited MHA to issue a public invitation to Mr Branson to partake in a live televised debate on Singapore’s approach towards drugs and the death penalty, with Singapore’s Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law, Mr K Shanmugam.
MHA has also offered to pay for Mr Branson’s flight to and accommodation in Singapore if he were to take up the invitation to demonstrate to Singaporeans the error of its ways and why Singapore should do away with laws that have kept its population safe from the global scourge of drug abuse.
This public invitation was posted along with a press release published by MHA on Saturday evening (22 Oct) where Mr Branson’s blog post, was rebutted point by point by the ministry. There has been any response by Mr Branson on the public invitation since it was issued.
MHA insists that the death penalty serves as a clear deterrent effect on drug traffickers in Singapore and helped prevent major drug syndicates from establishing themselves in the country.