TC Position Paper on Proposed Changes to the Mandatory Death Penalty

Posted by Think Centre under Breaking News on 9 November 2012

Think Centre is sharing our Position Statement on the proposed changes to the mandatory death penalty, which has also been presented to the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry for Law, to lend our perspective and feedback to the Ministries.

Think Centre

8 November 2012

Position Paper on Proposed Changes to the Mandatory Death Penalty

Think Centre (TC) appreciates the Singapore government's initiative to review the mandatory death penalty. TC has been calling for the moratorium and abolishment of the death penalty since the year 2000. We hope the recent changes are part of an ongoing process towards the abolishment of the death penalty and the need to find alternative forms of humane punishments. It is our view that the death penalty is a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment(1).

We are encouraged that our government has accepted two death penalty related recommendations(2) made at the 2011 Universal Periodic Review of Singapore:

95.14. Modify its legislation in such a way as to shift the burden of proof of the guilt of a person facing the death penalty to the prosecution instead of requesting the person to prove its own innocence (France)

95.15. Make available statistics and other factual information on the use of the death penalty (Finland)

During the collaboration with the National Solidarity Party in organising a forum titled "Public Consultation: Proposed Changes to the Mandatory Death Penalty" held on the 27 August 2012(3), TC highlighted the need of more public debates, dialogues and discussions on the use of the death penalty.

TC expressed concern that the discussion failed to adopt the human rights-based approach on the proposed legislative changes. In-depth discussions on the proposed changes to the Mandatory Death Penalty should also promote better understanding of the human rights-based approach.

Society expects the courts to have more sentencing discretion and offenders be given a second chance. TC shares their concerns and recommends that the court's discretion be extended to encompass offences under other legislations like the Penal Code, Misuse of Drugs Act, Internal Security Act, Arms Offences Act and Kidnapping Act, which are currently punishable by death.

TC welcomes the Singapore government's upcoming ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. TC would like to highlight that persons with mental and/or intellectual disabilities should not be subjected to torture, cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment(4).

We urge the Singapore government and our fellow citizens to take a longer-term perspective on the impact such treatments would have on our society's attitudes and views on human dignity. We call on the Singapore government to promote values such as compassion, leniency, and second chances. These would go a long way towards building a more caring community.

Think Centre thus makes the following recommendations to the government:

1. To continue the current hold on executions and establish an official moratorium to allow time and space for society to explore alternative sentencing options and to work ultimately towards the abolishment of the death penalty;

2. To make more accessible to the public, available statistics and other factual information on the use of the death penalty - this recommendation is accepted by the Singapore government's working group(5)at the Universal Periodic Review;

3. To join the global movement for the abolishment of the death penalty, by ratifying the International Covenant on the Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the second optional protocol to the ICCPR aimed at the abolition of the death penalty;

4. To give due regard to articles 10 and 15 of the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which recognises that no persons with disabilities including persons with mental or intellectual disabilities - should be subjected to the death penalty.

The above recommendations are based on the universal principles of human rights. The respect and protection to the right to life enhances human dignity and is instrumental to the building of a civilised, fair and inclusive society:

Recognize Death Penalty as a Human Rights Issue

Singapore is committed to the pursuit of human rights as evidenced by Singapore's participation in ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), its respect for the UDHR and the promotion of human rights. Moreover, Singapore is a member state of the UN that ratified CEDAW and CRC. But within Singapore there is rarely any discussion on the practices of human rights and its application with reference to criminal law and punishments like the death penalty and caning.

TC calls on all members of parliament to lead in the building of the "sharing and caring" ASEAN Community by harmonizing our laws, policies and practices, with the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

Universal Declaration on Human Rights: Respect and Realize

Article 3: "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person" and;

Article 5: "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

In light of the fundamental right to life, the UN has tried to limit the use of the death penalty as much as possible, with the ultimate aim at its abolition. The ICCPR was adopted 18 years after the UDHR and seeks to limit the death penalty where it is applied.

Today, the ICCPR has received almost universal endorsement, with 148 countries being parties to the treaty, but Singapore has yet to ratify the Covenant. In 1989, the UN's General Assembly passed the "Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of death penalty". This Protocol declares that the abolition of death penalty will strengthen human dignity and develop human rights. The majority of countries in the world have abandoned the use of the death penalty and the trend is now towards its complete abolition(6) .

Give Full Sentencing Discretion to the Courts

We recommend that the government remove the limitations on the court's discretion. The court should be given full discretion on sentencing options. This would contribute to the progressive global momentum toward the abolition and the restrictive application of the death penalty. We recommend that the government also adhere to the United Nations' 1984 promulgation on the 'Safeguards guaranteeing the protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty(7)

Problems with Caning and Persons with Mental Disability

We urge the government to adhere to the international standards set out in the 1955 Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, where 'all cruel, inhuman or degrading punishments, including corporal punishment, are completely prohibited as punishments for disciplinary offences (8); and the upcoming ratification by Singapore of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, of which, Article 15 states clearly that 'No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment'.

We are also concerned about the current proposed changes of sentencing a person with mental disability to life imprisonment with caning. If he is not able to substantially appreciate the gravity of being a drug courier, how will he benefit from the rehabilitative (or punitive) aspects of imprisonment and caning? Such a person is also unlikely to respond to the challenges thrown at them by the criminal justice system and less likely to get remission from his/her life sentences. If the court has a range of sentencing options, the court will be able to mete out what is most suitable in such situations.

Protection of the Rights of those Facing the Death Penalty

Trends with regard to the protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty can be gleaned from recent annual reports of the Secretary-General on the question of the death penalty submitted to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/18/20 and A/HRC/21/29). - (UN 67th Session, Report of the Secretary-General on Moratorium on the use of the death penalty, 3 August 2012)

In 1984, the UN introduced 9 "safeguards", to protect the rights of prisoners sentenced to death. The UN recommends that countries which use the death penalty include these safeguards in their legislation.

Think Centre calls for a shift in our judiciary system and principles, one that places less emphasis on retributive justice to one that embraces the restorative aspects of justice.

Think Centre's 2003 Call to Remove the Mandatory Death Penalty

Think Centre's call to remove the mandatory death penalty should be given adequate consideration by the parliament. The criminal justice system should fulfil the requirements of the UDHR and review the need for the death penalty and seek more appropriate remedies.Our recommendations:

Remove the mandatory death sentence. The laws have to be changed to permit full judicial discretion and fairness for all cases.

Under the current practice, judges are unable to do anything about the disproportionate number of young drug addicts (and couriers) who face heavy sentencing and death.

A drug addict or "runner" could be serving long-term prison sentences or death. Drug addicts are used and abused by traffickers. The police target the drug addict as incidence of crime is higher among addicts .

Remedies to reduce the number of mandatory death sentences:Due process should be given more serious consideration.

All evidence should be properly disclosed in capital cases - no withholding of evidence - which could lead to wrongful convictions.

All detainees should be allowed a fair look at evidence brought against them so they can review and rebut them.

No secret evidence from informers should be used against detainees. The CNB and police should end the practice of using undisclosed evidence against the addicts.

There is a strong need to challenge evidence based on suggestive interviews, make transparent police investigation, and track down evidence withheld by the prosecution.

Sources and Relevant Links:

1. Death Penalty undermines human dignity and right to life,

2.Universal Periodic Report: Report of the UPR Working Group

3. A summary of the feedback from the public is attached as Appendix A

4. Convention on the Rights of Person with Disabilities

5. Moratorium on the use of the death penalty , Report of the Secretary-General, pg 11, E.

6. "Approximately 150 of the 193 States Members of the United Nations have abolished the death penalty or introduced a moratorium, either in law or in practice." - (UN 67th Session, Report of the Secretary-General on Moratorium on the use of the death penalty, 3 August 2012)

7. Safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty,United Nations Economic and Social Council,(1984)

and 1996/15. Safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty(1995)

8. Fact sheet See page 4

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