Sri Lankan Prime Minister proposes to end death penalty

Sri Lankan Prime Minister proposes to end death penalty

Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has introduced a bill to abolish the death penalty in the lead up to the execution of four drug convicts.

The proposed bill would abolish the death sentence in the future and commute the sentences of those already on death row to life imprisonment. The bill was introduced to parliament on Thursday and will take a vote in 14 days if no one challenges it will pass.

This, however, is unlikely as President Sirisena is a vocal opponent claiming that those who oppose executions oppose building a decent county. The Washington Post further reports that Sirisena has described narcotics as “the root cause of all other major crimes” and he views the decision to execute prisoners “for the betterment of future generations”.

Sirisena has claimed that his position was influenced by what he views as Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s successful “war on drugs”.

Sri Lanka’s stance on the death penalty has been widely panned by the international community.

The European Union has stated that if Sri Lanka moves towards implementing the death penalty it will be in contradiction with its commitments to the UN General Assembly to maintain a 43-year moratorium on the death penalty.

The EU has warned this may send the wrong signals to the international community and investors. Sri Lanka is currently a beneficiary of the GSP+ agreement with the EU which enables a preferential trade scheme but is dependent upon Sri Lanka fulfilling its commitments to human rights.

Wickremesinghe has stated that he opposes the death penalty and the under the coalition government Sri Lanka supported a UN resolution for a moratorium on the death penalty in 2016 and 2018.

The Sri Lanka government has not had formally hanged a prisoner since  1976 even though courts routinely pass death sentences. – Tamil Guardian, 2/8/2019

India – Parliament approves bill providing death penalty for sexual assault against children

Parliament approves bill providing death penalty for sexual assault against children

Piloting the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani said it aims at making offences against children gender-neutral.

The Bill, which was already passed by the Rajya Sabha on July 29. (Photo: PTI)

A bill seeking to provide death penalty for aggravated sexual assault on children and greater punishments for other crimes against minors was approved by Parliament after it was passed by the Lok Sabha on Thursday.

Piloting the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani said it aims at making offences against children gender-neutral.

The Bill, which was already passed by the Rajya Sabha on July 29, defines child pornography, making it punishable.

Cutting across party lines, members supported amendments to POCSO Act though some demanded that Bill be referred to the standing committee or select committee as it makes certain offences punishable with death.

Seeking passage of the bill in Lok Sabha, Irani said this bill is not related to vote bank politics but to save the future of India.

In an apparent reference to Congress MP Ramya Haridas who raised the Unnao rape issue in the House, Irani said this bill should not be looked from the perspective of politics and should not be politicised for personal benefits.

Responding to Haridas, Irani said it was very unfortunate that when she was speaking some members who were supporting her were actually having fun.

She further said the courts of this country have even power to punish MLAs and MPs.

The Bill, said Irani, would provide added legal protection to 39 per cent of population or 43 crore children, irrespective of whether they are a girl or boy.

Besides other things, she said, the Bill defines child pornography so that sexual predators indulging in such heinous crimes could be punished.

Regretting that 5,000 persons followed the child pornography site operated by a person, Irani said, “this is a matter of grave concern for the society”. The site had even shown the rape of a minor girl, he added.

Recalling a case wherein children were administered drugs and hormones to make them sexually active, she said, the law is aimed at providing stringent punishment to such offenders.

“We want to provide added protection to children…in rarest of rare cases death (penalty),” she added.

Replying on the bill, Irani assured that under witness protection scheme, all measures such as doing threat assessment of the victim and witness and if required even changing their identity and others, were taken to ensure their safety.

On if juvenile is involved in the sexual offence against the children, the minister said that cases come under juveile justice act and the death penalty could be given only if he is above 16 years of age and juvenile justice board finds that he has an adult mind.

The minister acknowledged that the rate of conviction in sexual offences is very slow and informed that under Nirbhaya Fund, 1023 fast track courts will be established across the country and 18 state governments have already been taken on board by the government.

She also said that a national database for such cases have also been started and about 6.2 lakh sexual offence cases were registered in that base.

Sharing the details of awareness programme among children, the minister said CBSE will carry out programmes in school across the country to make aware children about good and bad touch.

She further said more than 40,000 teachers will also be trained for the same.

Participating in the discussion, Su Thirunavukkarasar (Cong) suggested that since the bill has a provision for the death penalty, it should be sent to a Parliamentary committee for further scrutiny.

Rita Bahuguna Joshi (BJP) said the Bill will go a long way in bringing offenders against children to book.

Kanimozhi (DMK) said that bill should be sent to select committee or standing committee as harsher punishment could deter people from reporting the crime.

While presiding over the proceedings, BJD’s Bhartruhari Mahtab pointed out to Irani that the Hindi version of the POCSO bill used the word “balakon”, a term for young boys, while the English word “children” is gender-neutral.

To this, she responded that the legislative department of the government had vetted the bill and cleared it.

Rajiv Ranjan Singh of the JD(U) hailed the bill, saying it will curb the growing trend in the society toward such heinous crimes.

He, however, suggested the government work towards having special courts across the country and ensure speedy trial so that the cases of sexual crimes against children are taken to a logical conclusion.

A short period of trial will also minimise the chances of accused influencing witnesses. Citing a survey, he said the cases of sexual harassment against children have risen by 500 per cent.

TMC’s Satabdi Roy wondered if the death penalty will deter criminals and asked the government to explain as to what it is doing to help victims.

Shiv Sana’s Vinayak Raut supported the bill and sought a time-bound trial for the accused.

BSP’s Danish Ali also backed the bill, saying he supports capital punishment for those convicted under this Act even though he is ideologically against the death penalty.

Ali (BSP) said he was against the death penalty for the juvenile.

Hasnain Masoodi (NC) extended support to the Bill stating that the proposed legislation was for the 10 per cent of the victims and that for the remaining 90 per cent there was a need to strengthen the prevention system.

“We have to strengthen the prevention mechanism,” he said and added that it was high time to make stringent and effective law for the protection of children.

Amid the opposition to the death penalty for juvenile by some members, Nishikant Dubey (BJP) said the government has shown the power to come up with the death penalty.

He also pitched for the need for an awareness campaign in the society.

Kalyan Banerjee (AITC) expressed concern that in the media the identity of the victim and his/her family got leaked which he said should not happen.

Pritam Munde (BJP) stressed on the rehabilitation of the victims. – India Today, 1/8/2019

Singapore’s execution of drug offenders tripled in five years(Think Centre)

 

 

Press release: Monday, 29 July 2019, Singapore

 

Singapore’s execution of drug offenders tripled in five years

 

Singapore’s execution of drug offenders tripled in past five years compared to previous period before law review

 

Year Drug Murder /
Firearms
 2019 1 0
2018 11 2
2017 8 0
2016 2 2
2015 3 1
2014 2 0
Subtotal 27 5
Year Drug Murder /
Firearms
 2013 / 2012 0 0
2011 2 2
2010 0 0
2009 3 2
2008 2 4
2007 2 1
Subtotal 9 9
Source: Judicial Executions, Ministry of Home Affairs – Singapore Prison Service, accessed from Data.gov.sg

Note: For 2019, figure is derived from public news reporting 

 

 

Think Centre expresses grave concerns over the disturbing trend of executions in Singapore in recent years.

 

Key observations

 

  • Total number of executions from 2014 to 2019 is 32
  • Executions for drug offence stand at 84 percent of the total executions till date since 2014
  • A noticeable spike in execution numbers for drug offence occurred in 2017 and 2018

 

The number of executions (drug) in the past five years (2014-2018) represented a 3 times jump from the previous five year period (2007-2011) before the laws on mandatory death penalty for both drug and murder offences were reviewed in 2012-2013. In terms of total executions, the 2014-2019 period exhibits 1.8 times more executions compared to the 2007-2011 period.

 

It is tragic that Singapore’s amended legislative framework for drug trafficking offences has elicited an increase in the number death sentences carried out. The majority, if not all, of those executed on drug offences since 2014 were due to the failure of the Attorney General Chambers (AGC) to issue a ”Certificate of Cooperation (COC). Absent this certificate, an accused still faces the mandatory death sentence.  Otherwise the judge could exercise the option to pass an alternate sentence of life imprisonment rather than the death penalty.

 

Problematic trend

 

The issue of how and when a COC can be issued is the sole prerogative of the AGC. What is problematic is the trend of those who should rightly be considered socially vulnerable but were executed instead due to their failure to obtain the COC. First, owing to their status as low level couriers, it would be deeply questionable if they were able to provide the level of intelligence that can “disrupt drug trafficking activities”. Second, and even more problematic, is when the cases involved persons who were assessed to have sub or borderline intelligence level, and were found to have played the role of a mere courier.

 

Any of these two factors would significantly reduce the likelihood of the COC being granted. Further aggravating the situation are the statutory presumptions in the Misuse of Drugs Act which shifts the burden on accused persons to produce the necessary evidence to rebut the presumptions. It is therefore not an exaggeration to think that a person may be condemned to die because he has been deemed un-useful, or was limited by his inherent capacity to assist with his own defense at the point of first trial. While not all executions occurred under this unfortunate matrix of factors, but when they do, the outcome is devastating. Such persons are most indubitably victims of cognitive inequality. The case of Nagaenthran a/l K Dharmalingam (alias Naga) is one perturbing example.

 

First arrested in 2009, and originally sentenced to the mandatory death penalty in 2010, he spent the next eight years fighting for his life. During this arduous period, his first appeal was rejected in 2011. The sentence was delayed when the Misuse of Drugs Act was amended in 2012 and given effect in 2013. In late 2014, on the occasion of the international human rights day, the public prosecutor informed the court that Naga was not eligible for the certificate of cooperation. The next four years were spent on seeking a judicial recourse in challenging this denial, and to appeal for re-sentencing. It emerged between 2013 and 2017, when Naga was referred for a forensic psychiatric evaluation, that medical experts assessed him to possess a borderline range of intelligence. This essentially meant he could rightfully be described as a person with intellectual disability.

 

The Singapore government ratified the Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons on 18 July 2013. Since then, some spotted improvement or developments may be observed in the way that the criminal justice system here manages cases of persons with intellectual disabilities coming into conflict with the law. However any improvement remains to be assessed when it comes to death penalty cases. In Naga’s case, the courts have consistently adopted the position that his disability does not square with the meaning or effect of “abnormality of mind” as defined in the MDA.

 

International human rights law has recognised that the death penalty should not be imposed on persons with mental or intellectual disabilities. It also calls for laws and sentencing guidelines to be developed or amended to prohibit the imposition of the death sentence on such persons and their execution. In lieu of such needed developments in Singapore, and with his final judicial appeal for re-sentencing denied earlier on 27 May 2019, Naga’s final recourse lies with petitioning the President for clemency. This however presents another worrying challenge.

 

Blemished clemency process

 

Disturbingly, his chances of success are reasonably cast in doubt, if we observe the case of P. Pannir Selvam. Pannir was arrested in September 2014 and convicted in 2017 for trafficking 51.84g of diamorphine. Like Naga, he was denied the certificate of assistance by the public prosecutor despite the best efforts by him and his family who worked hard to provide information to the Singapore authorities.

 

His clemency petition to the President was rejected earlier in May this year on the advice of the Singapore Cabinet. The troubling aspect stemmed from the manner such grave news was communicated to his family. They received both letters dated on the same day – 17 May – from the President’s office informing of the clemency denial, and the letter from the Singapore Prison Services informing of his scheduled execution on 24 May.

 

Pannir narrowly gained a reprieve when the court granted a rare leave for him to challenge his execution based on this troubling circumstance. This sliver of hope is overshadowed by the disturbing revelation that as many as 13 clemency petitions have already been rejected by the President, as shared by Mr. N. Surendran the legal adviser to Malaysia based Lawyers for Liberty. It is a sombre fact that Singapore has not seen any clemency granted for the past twenty years since 1998.

 

Keen observers of the death penalty’s application in Singapore will know that the weight of granting clemency derives from the Cabinet’s prerogative. In a 2003 BBC interview, the then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong infamously said, “Each execution comes to the Cabinet and we look at it. If we decide that a certain person has got to be executed, he is executed.”

 

To date, we have yet to witness any evidence that would suggest the President possess the powers to decide independently from the Cabinet’s advice.

 

Think Centre reiterates our longstanding belief that the death penalty is a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. We oppose the use of capital punishment in all circumstances, and especially the mandatory death penalty for non-violent crimes in the case of drugs offences. It has no place in any society that wants to pride itself as being modern, developed and civilised. The death penalty in Singapore today is an anachronistic and incongruous practice; it should only be as fashionable as the ongoing bicentennial commemoration – not to be celebrated, but to be remembered only as a part of history.

 

* Think Centre is a member of ADPAN