UN rights expert calls on Singapore not to execute convicted drug trafficker

15 November 2005

A United Nations human rights expert today called on the Government of Singapore not to execute a man sentenced to death for attempting to traffic heroin, declaring that the execution violate international legal standards.

A United Nations human rights expert today called on the Government of Singapore not to execute a man sentenced to death for attempting to traffic heroin, declaring that the execution violate international legal standards.

“Making such a penalty mandatory – thereby eliminating the discretion of the court – makes it impossible to take into account mitigating or extenuating circumstances and eliminates any individual determination of an appropriate sentence in a particular case,” the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions of the UN Commission on Human Rights, Philip Alston, said.

“The adoption of such a black and white approach is entirely inappropriate where the life of the accused is at stake. Once the sentence has been carried out it is irreversible,” he added.

Nguyen Tuong Van was sentenced to death for attempting to traffic just under 400 grams of pure heroin through Changi Airport in December 2002.

Mr. Alston noted that the Singaporean Government had in the past stated that the death penalty is primarily a question for the sovereign jurisdiction of each country, but he said matters relating to the functioning of the criminal justice system are legitimate matters of international concern when questions of non-compliance with international standards are involved.

He added that the Singapore Court of Appeal had failed to examine the most relevant case of all in rejecting the condemned man’s appeal, one in which the United Kingdom’s Law Lords endorsed the statement that “No international human rights tribunal anywhere in the world has ever found a mandatory death penalty regime compatible with international human rights norms.”

Noting the longstanding commitment of the Singaporean courts to the rule of law, Mr. Alston called upon the Government to take all necessary steps to avoid an execution which is inconsistent with accepted standards of international human rights law.

Responding to Mr. Alston’s statement, a spokesman for Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressed that there is no international consensus on capital punishment and “it is the sovereign right of every country to decide whether or not to include it within its criminal justice system.”

In comments released to the press, the spokesman said Mr. Alston “grossly misrepresented” the facts when he claimed that the Singapore Court of Appeals had not considered the most relevant precedent case. The spokesman added that since Mr. Nguyen was tried “in an entirely open, fair and transparent manner,” the case did not fall within Mr. Alston’s mandate. “We have previously protested Mr. Alston’s abuse of his office and will continue to do so as necessary,” the statement said.

 

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