Singapore: Executions defy global trend

Posted by under Human Rights Watch on 24 January 2009

Think Centre calls for moratorium on death penalty. The government is urged to remove the mandatory death penalty for possession of drugs. Any humane criminal justice system will not continue to justify the retention of the death penalty which is based on retribution. Death penalty is a practice from the past like torture and slavery must be rejected by all.

The Home Affairs Ministry has said that 19 were hanged in 2003 and 8 in 2005. Reports say 138 people were executed between 1998 and 2003, a total of 110 were hanged for drug related crimes. Singapore has mandatory death sentence for anyone caught carrying more than 15g of heroin, 30g of cocaine or half a kilo of marijuana.

Singapore: Executions defy global trend

Singapore, estimated to have one of the highest per capita execution rates in the world, should stop its use of the death penalty and instead join the 138 states throughout the world that have ceased executions in law or practice, said Amnesty International.

The city-state, with a population of 4.6 million, has executed at least 420 people since 1991. Singapore has condemned at least three people to die since 18 December, when the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly approved the "Moratorium on the use of the death penalty". Singapore strongly criticized the resolution. At least two people have been executed since then.

The media reported the execution of Singaporean Moahammed Ali Johari, on 19 December for murder. Tan Chor Jin, a Singaporean man, was hanged on 9 January for murder.

On 30 December, the High Court sentenced to death Chijioke Stephen Obioha, a 20-year old Ghanaian man, for trafficking cannabis. His alleged accomplice, a Zambian woman, was not mentioned in recent media reports, but because drug trafficking carries a mandatory death sentence in Singapore, it is feared that she will be given the death penalty as well.

Amnesty International recognises the seriousness of these crimes and supports all calls for justice. Amnesty International, however, opposes the death penalty in all cases as a violation of the most fundamental human right: the right to life.

It is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and there is no escaping the risk of error, which can lead to the execution of an innocent person.

Most death sentences in Singapore follow convictions for drug trafficking. The Misuse of Drugs Act provides for mandatory death sentences for at least 20 different offences and contains a series of presumptions which shift the burden of proof from the prosecution to the defence.

The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions has called for the death penalty to be eliminated for drug-related offences and has argued that the mandatory nature of the death sentence is a violation of international legal standards.

Singapore's policies and practice run counter to the solid and long-standing trend towards global abolition of the death penalty.

When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948,eight countries had abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Sixty years later, the number stands at 138. Within the Asia Pacific region, Singapore is one of 9 states that retain the death penalty in law and practice. 27 states in the region have either abolished the death penalty or are holding a de facto moratorium.

As not all sentences and executions are reported publicly, it is possible that there have been more death penalty cases in the last few weeks. Amnesty International has requested that the Singapore government make public comprehensive information about the state's use of the death penalty. Singapore has yet to publicly provide the requested annual statistics covering the period from 1993 to the present day.

Sources and Relevant Links:

Straits Times Law Society President Michael Hwang's Message (Part 1) December 2008

Straits Times Law Society President Michael Hwang's Message (Part 2)January 2009

Straits Times Rebuttal by Law Minister19 January 2009

Amnesty International Time to move towards abolition of the death penalty 11 October 2008

UN Commission on Human Rights 61st session The question of the death penalty 14 July 2005

Ministry of Home Affairs: Singapore Government's Response to AI Report 30 January 2004

Amnesty report Singapore: The death penalty: A hidden toll of executions14 January 2004      

Amnesty International Singapore: High execution rate shrouded in secrecy 16 January 2004

Think Centre Think Centre calls for a moratorium on Death Penalty 19 October 2003

Think Centre Singapore opposed the call for a moratorium on death-penalty 31 March 2002

Think Centre Drug Addicts and Death Penalty in Singapore 13 July 2001

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