SINGAPORE: Two human rights groups and the Association of Criminal Lawyers have welcomed the announcement by the Singapore government that the death penalty will no longer be mandatory in certain limited circumstances.
The Association of Criminal Lawyers called the move a significant milestone in Singapore’s legal history. Its president, Subhas Anandan, said death row inmates deserve punishment but not all deserve death.
But human rights group MARUAH said it regrets the "narrow scope of this move", and that it is "troubled" that the mandatory death penalty will continue to be maintained for offences such as intentional murder, kidnapping, firearms offences and drug trafficking where the conditions spelt out by the government are not met.
In its submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council for the Universal Periodic Review of Singapore in 2011, MARUAH has highlighted that the mandatory death penalty fundamentally conflicts with international human rights norms.
So MARUAH said it is glad at this "first step towards consistency with universal standards of human rights", but it called on the Singapore government to do much more.
In a statement, MARUAH president Braema Mathi said: "We applaud the Singapore government for taking this important first step. But this is only a small step in the right direction, as the mandatory death penalty is fundamentally troubling, and it continues to be applied to a substantial number of criminal offences."
In a phone interview with Channel NewsAsia, she described the review of the mandatory death penalty as a move towards "greater enlightenment".
"That is really bravo. That is really moving towards a greater enlightenment by the government. This has been too harsh and too long for too many. I still think the death penalty as a tool needs to be discussed thoroughly by the public. It has to be a proper dialogue with the public to fully understand and comprehend whether it is really the best deterrent that we can have to really stamp out drug trafficking or to reduce drug addiction?" said Ms Braema Mathi.
Meanwhile, human rights group Amnesty International wants to see the mandatory death sentence abolished unconditionally.
In a statement to Channel NewsAsia, a spokesperson from the group said mandatory death sentences prevent judges from exercising their discretion and from considering all extenuating circumstances in a case.
It added international human rights law prohibits mandatory death sentences as "they have been found to constitute arbitrary deprivation of life and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment".
"Many courts and judicial bodies around the world have ruled mandatory death sentencing as unconstitutional", it said.
The group cited the case of Malaysian drug trafficker Yong Vui Kong, who was 19 years old when he was arrested.
"Yong Vui Kong’s case has attracted international attention and concern from the diplomatic community. Amnesty International and the Anti Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN) join local groups in Malaysia and Singapore in calling for the Singaporean government to commute Yong Vui Kong’s sentence."
The group acknowledged the impact of violent crimes on society and families but added "there is no evidence to demonstrate that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other punishments".
The government announced on Monday that it will change the law such that the mandatory death penalty will not be applied in two types of cases: firstly, where a drug trafficker only played the role of a courier, and the trafficker had substantively cooperated with the police or had a mental disability; and secondly, where there is a homicide but there was no intention to kill.
In these cases, the courts may either impose the death penalty or sentence the convicted person to life imprisonment with caning.
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