UN expert calls on Singapore not to hang Nigerian on drug charges, says breaches rights
An independent United Nations human rights expert today called on Singapore not to proceed with tomorrow’s planned hanging of a Nigerian for heroin trafficking, charging that the island state’s Government has failed to ensure respect for relevant legal safeguards under international standards.
“It is a fundamental human right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty,” UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Philip Alston said in a statement, noting that the trial judge ruled that although there was no direct evidence that Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi knew the capsules contained heroin ignorance did not exculpate him.
“The standard accepted by the international community is that capital punishment may be imposed only when the guilt of the person charged is based upon clear and convincing evidence leaving no room for an alternative explanation of the facts,” Mr. Alston added. “Singapore cannot reverse the burden and require a defendant to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he didn’t know that he was carrying drugs.”
The appeal court rejected the trial court’s suggestion that it was irrelevant whether Mr. Tochi had knowledge of what he was carrying but still upheld his conviction, reasoning that under Singapore law such knowledge is presumed until the defendant rebuts that presumption “on a balance of probabilities” and not merely by raising reasonable doubt.
Mr. Alston also said that Singapore law making the death penalty mandatory for drug trafficking was inconsistent with international human rights standards, because it keeps judges from considering all of the factors relevant to determining whether a death sentence would be permissible in a capital case.
Mr Tochi’s co-defendant, Okele Nelson Malachy of South Africa, was convicted of having abetted Mr. Tochi’s offence and was also sentenced to death. There has reportedly been no date set for his execution, but it would raise similar grave human rights issues, Mr. Alston stressed.
“One of the tasks given to me by the UN Human Rights Council is to monitor states’ respect for those safeguards in order to protect the human rights of those facing the death penalty,” he said. “In the case of Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi, the Government of Singapore has failed to ensure respect for the relevant legal safeguards. Under the circumstances, the execution should not proceed.”
Special Rapporteurs are unpaid, independent experts who report to the Council.