“Just close your eyes, and that’s it, and execute.” – M. Ravi on the mandatory death penalty
On 9th July 2012, ministers in the Singaporean government announced changes to its mandatory death penalty laws.
A recent review concluded that judges should be given discretion to impose life sentences instead of death sentences, in certain cases of drug-related crimes and murder where causing death is not intended. In cases of drug trafficking, the mandatory death penalty will no longer be applied if the suspect fulfils the following two criteria: the suspect must have solely been the courier and must have either cooperated substantively with the drug enforcement agencies or have a mental disability impairing judgement. Reports indicate that draft legislation will be introduced later this year. However, even when this occurs, the mandatory death penalty will not have been struck completely from the statute books, but will continue to be available in violation of international law.
Singapore’s extremely harsh laws have been the focal point of much national and international debate. The mandatory death penalty means that judges have no discretion, preventing them from taking into consideration any mitigating circumstances in the individual case. Because it adds a measure of arbitrariness to an already extremely harsh, irreversible form of punishment, it is prohibited under international human rights law.
Many courts and judicial bodies around the world have ruled mandatory death sentences to be unlawful, including in Bangladesh and India. Moreover, Taiwan abolished the mandatory death penalty in 2006.
Likewise, the continued application of the death penalty for drugs offences as such, whether on a mandatory or discretionary basis, does not meet the international standard of “most serious crimes” as interpreted by the United Nations.
The UN, regional organisations (including ADPAN), civil society groups in Singapore, such as We Believe in Second Chances and the Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign, Think Centre and lawyers groups including the Singapore Law Society have consistently raised concerns about these laws. Notable is M. Ravi, ADPAN member and lawyer, who has been working to save many facing the death penalty under these laws including a young Malaysian, Yong Vui Kong, sentenced to death for drug offences.
ADPAN welcomes this announcement as a significant step forward and hopes that Singapore will soon follow the global trend by placing a moratorium on all executions and eventually abolish the death penalty for all crimes.