On the death penalty for rape/sexual assault that results in death

A profile on Law Minister K Shanmugam published in the Business Times on 17 May [paywall] included an alarming proposal. In the article, Mr Shanmugam mentioned his intention to pass laws that would impose the death penalty on those convicted of raping or sexually assaulting women or children in a way that results in the victim’s death.

Mr Shanmugam was quoted as saying: “My thinking is that there should be a default death sentence for those who rape or sexually assault women, resulting in the victim’s death, and for those who hurt a child and the child ends up dead. The accused in such cases should face the death penalty, unless he can prove why there shouldn’t be such a penalty.”

As firm supporters for the abolition of the death penalty, we urge Mr Shamugam to reconsider these plans.

Although homicide through rape and sexual assault is a horrific crime, the imposition of a default death penalty will not afford any more protection to victims of sexual violence than the law currently provides. Furthermore, incidents of rape or sexual assault that results in death are already low in Singapore; a state of affairs achieved without the use of the death penalty for crimes of such nature.

As Mr Shanmugam himself mentioned in a statement to Parliament on the 9th of July 2012, the then changes to the death penalty were motivated by the fact that our society has become safer, less violent and more mature. These changes proposed by Mr Shanmugam will have a regressive effect on our criminal justice system and are not backed up by substantial evidence that our society has become less safe, more violent or less mature.

While we believe that criminals should be punished for their wrongdoing, criminal justice should not be based on the archaic and vengeful notion of “an eye for an eye”. We are no better than the murderers if our response to such senseless violence is to inflict more violence. A default death sentence for convicted rapists would put Singapore on the wrong side of history, as the world continues its move away from capital punishment.

Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign

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