GENEVA – United Nations experts have strongly condemned Singapore’s recent execution of Tangaraju s/o Suppiah, a 46-year-old Singaporean Tamil, for abetting by conspiracy to traffic 1,017.9g of cannabis.
They urge the Singaporean government to impose an immediate moratorium on capital punishment.
Tangaraju’s execution took place on 26 April, despite claims that he had not been provided with adequate interpretation during police interrogations. Additionally, his family submitted clemency petitions to the President of Singapore and requested a retrial of his case.
UN experts stated that the death penalty can only be carried out after a legal process with every possible safeguard, ensuring a fair trial, legal representation at every stage, and necessary interpretation in all oral proceedings.
“The death penalty can only be carried out after a legal process with every possible safeguard that ensures a fair trial, including legal representation at every stage of proceedings and necessary interpretation in all oral proceedings,” the UN experts said.
The experts expressed concern over the highly alarming rate of execution notices for drug-related offences in Singapore. They emphasized that international law only permits capital punishment for the “most serious crimes” involving intentional killing, a threshold not met by drug offences.
“States that have not yet abolished the death penalty may only impose capital punishment for the ‘most serious crimes’,” the experts said.
“Under international law, only crimes of extreme gravity involving intentional killing can be considered as ‘most serious’. Drug offences clearly do not meet this threshold.”
The UN experts also raised concerns about discriminatory treatment of minority individuals, like Tangaraju, and reports of reprisals against their legal counsel.
They criticized Singapore’s mandatory sentencing law, which removes judicial discretion and leads to arbitrary deprivation of life, as it does not account for the defendant’s personal circumstances or the specific offence’s context.
“We reiterate that the mandatory use of the death penalty constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of life since it is imposed without taking into account the defendant’s personal circumstances or circumstances of the particular offence,” they said.
The experts expressed alarm over the suspension of the moratorium on the death penalty by the Singaporean government in 2019.
They called on the government to review the scope of the death penalty, particularly concerning drug-related offences, and to ensure its strict limitation to cases involving intentional killing.
“Singapore must ensure that the imposition of the death penalty and its implementation is strictly limited to cases involving intentional killing,” the experts said.
The UN experts maintain that abolishing the death penalty is a step toward realizing the right to life, while resuming executions results in less protection of this fundamental right.
“Any measures to abolish the death penalty should be seen as progress towards the realization of the right to life. By extension, the resumption of executions results in less protection of the right to life,” they said.
The condemnation of Tangaraju’s execution and the call for a moratorium on capital punishment come from a group of experts, including Mr. Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Ms. Priya Gopalan, Chair-Rapporteur; and Mr. Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues.
These experts are part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, an independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanism addressing specific country situations or thematic issues worldwide.
Tangaraju represented himself as no lawyer is willing to take up his case
In a live video on Facebook, human rights lawyer Mr Ravi noted that Tangaraju did not have access to counsel when his statements were taken.
He added that Tangaraju had to represent himself in court. His sister, Leela had sought legal representation, but lawyers were not willing to take up his case.
“Last night (on Sunday), I spoke to a lawyer who said that he is he will be he would be willing to take up his case. And he said that there are reasonable grounds to reopen his case, but he said that he is afraid that he will face cost orders and also disciplinary actions.”
The prospect is real because Mr Ravi himself had already gone through that, being faced with $70,000 personal cost orders from various complaints filed against him over last minute applications for death penalty cases.
“So lawyers, when they are frightened to take up the cases, it brings a disrepute to the entire profession because we have taken an oath to advance fearless advocacy on behalf of our client. ”
“Secondly, the system is broken without legal representation for persons like Tangaraju, ” Mr Ravi added.