Singapore must implement an immediate moratorium on executions for drug offences, UN human rights experts said on Friday, in a statement condemning the recent hanging of a 64-year-old man for drug trafficking – the fifth person to be executed there this year.
Nazeri Bin Lajim, a Malay Singaporean national, was arrested in April 2012 for trafficking more than 33 grammes of diamorphine. He was executed last Friday.
“Under international law, States that have not yet abolished the death penalty may only impose it for the ‘most serious crimes’, involving intentional killing,” the experts said. “Drug offences clearly do not meet this threshold.”
Discrimination against minorities
They also noted the sharp rise in execution notices issued in Singapore this year.
“We are concerned that a disproportionate number of those being sentenced to death for drug-related offences are minority persons and tend to be from economically disadvantaged backgrounds like Mr. Nazeri Bin Lajim,” the experts said.
“The practice amounts to discriminatory treatment of minorities such as Malays and vulnerable persons.”
The experts said enforcement of Mr. Bin Lajim’s execution proceeded despite claims that he had been suffering from long-term drug addiction, and that most of the diamorphine would have been for his personal use.
Additionally, the rest of the narcotics in his possession would not have met the 15 gram threshold for imposing Singapore’s mandatory death penalty.
“We are also extremely concerned by reports about increasing pressure and acts of intimidation by the authorities against activists, journalists, legal professionals and human rights defenders who peacefully advocate against the death penalty and/or represent persons on death row, and the chilling effect such acts have on civic space,” they said.
“The act of expressing one’s opinion and protesting against the death penalty should be tolerated in a democratic country.”
Suspend further executions
The experts urged Singapore to suspend the further execution of individuals on death row for drug offences and instead commute their sentences to imprisonment, consistent with international human rights law and standards.
They also called for the authorities to immediately establish a moratorium on all executions with a view to fully abolishing the death penalty.
The Government was also urged to review the scope of the death penalty, particularly with regard to drug-related offences, in order to ensure that its imposition and implementation are strictly limited to cases involving intentional killing.
“We reiterate that the mandatory use of the death penalty constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of life, since it is imposed without taking into account the defendant’s personal circumstances or the circumstances of the particular offence,” the experts said.
“Mandatory death sentences are arbitrary in nature and not compatible with the limitation of capital punishment to the ‘most serious crimes.’”
The 11 experts who issued the statement were appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor and report on specific thematic issues such as extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.
They are independent of any government, serve in their individual capacity, and are neither UN staff nor are they paid for their work.