Towards a world without the death penalty – A message in commemoration of the 14th World Day Against the Death Penalty
10 October 2016
Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign (SADPC) notes the global trend achieved by our colleagues in the abolition movement worldwide with encouragement, even as we continue to face challenges in our work here in Singapore. To date, more than two thirds of the countries in the world have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, bringing the number of retentionist countries down to 58.
Although the picture isn’t rosy here in Southeast Asia, the abolition movement is fighting back equally hard. Countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore’s active use of the death penalty remains a grave concern, and so does recent developments in the Philippines, where President Duterte expresses intentions to revive the use of the death penalty to combat drug related crimes. Therefore on this World Day Against the Death Penalty, we would like to take this opportunity to reaffirm our commitment in the work towards abolition. We reiterate the following:
- It is well documented worldwide that many innocent individuals have been wrongly accused and executed. The wrongful execution of an innocent person is an injustice that can never be rectified;
- Advocates for the death penalty hold the strong belief that the death penalty serves as an effective deterrent against crimes. However, this rhetoric has not been backed by any independent criminology studies. On the other hand, we have current examples whereby abolition has not resulted in an increase in crime rates in countries that have abolished the use of the death penalty;
- While it is often assumed that the execution of a perpetrator brings closure and relief to victim families, studies have discovered that this is not the case. In fact, the death penalty have found to polarise families of both the victims and perpetrators, and executions result in the creation of another set of victims;
- Every step towards the execution has been carefully planned and calculated, with the purpose to end the life on an inmate. This makes the death penalty the most premeditated of murders, even though it is done in the name of justice. Two wrongs do not make a right, and killing the perpetrator will not reverse the result of a crime.
We would also like to express our solidarity with fellow abolitionists in the world, including activists, educators and academics, artists, cause lawyers, journalists, social workers, politicians, former death row inmates and their families, families of inmates who are currently on death row, and victim families who are working against the death penalty. With our joint effort, may we soon see a world without the death penalty.
Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign
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The deterrent argument – In Singapore where we are based, it is often argued that the use of the death penalty is an effective deterrent for crimes. It is also said that because of our harsh laws, women and children can walk safely on the streets at night. As recent cases of homicide in Singapore have indicated, the perpetrators were almost always familiar to the victims, and they were not always women or children. This barely supports the claim that our streets are safe because of the existing practice of the death penalty. Furthermore, based on the information we hold however, almost all the inmates who are currently on death row have been convicted for drug trafficking, with most of them arrested upon reaching immigration.
The war on drugs – Based on the cases we have encountered in the past decade and the data we have collected, those who have been convicted and sentenced to death for drug trafficking share a common story of poverty, lack of education, and marginalisation. A number of them have been coerced or threatened into carrying out the act of drug trafficking (e.g., Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam, 2009), and some did it out of desperation to pay off their debts or support their drug habit. In a few cases we have seen, the individuals claimed not to be aware of what they were carrying (e.g., Vignes Mourthi, 2001; Amara Tochi, 2004; Cheong Chun Yin, 2008). There have also been cases whereby individuals were arrested and/or convicted based on testimonies given by others (e.g.,Roslan bin Bakar, 2008). Although the amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) in 2012 has given judges some discretion in sentencing if the accused cooperates “substantially” during the investigation process, and are able to prove that they have no major role in the syndicate or are mentally compromised to understand the consequences of their actions, many drug mules continue to find themselves on the death row. We would like to emphasize that sentencing drug mules is not an effective solution because as long as the drug trade remains lucrative and if the syndicate remains operative, drug mules will continue to come through, especially when their circumstances leave them with little choice.
Public opinion – In the recent survey done by the government feedback unit REACH, 80% of the respondents felt that the death penalty should be retained, while 82% agreed that it was an important deterrent that helped keep Singapore safe from serious crimes. We are neither surprised nor deterred by the results of the poll. However we question the methodology in which the poll was conducted, and whether the respondents were given enough information about the practice of the death penalty in Singapore and if they were given background information of specific cases, which should include circumstances leading to the crimes and the backgrounds of the incarcerated individuals, to measure their tolerance of the use of the death penalty. We would also like to suggest that an added poll on whether they would remain indifferent, be supportive, or be unsupportive in the event if government decides to replace the use of the death penalty with alternative tools of justice. This will help to give a better picture of how committed the public is when it comes to retaining the use of the death penalty.