GENEVA, Oct 10, 2011 (IPS) – Capital punishment continues to exist because in some countries people are barraged with propaganda depicting it as a curb on crime, which it is not, said Federico Mayor Zaragoza, chair of an international commission against the death penalty that inaugurated its new headquarters in Geneva Monday.
Mayor Zaragoza, director general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) from 1987 to 1999, said that is the case of right-wing Guatemalan presidential candidate Otto Pérez Molina, a retired general favoured to win the Nov. 6 runoff who has pledged to restore the death penalty to clamp down on rampant violent crime.
At the opening of the fourth meeting of the International Commission against the Death Penalty (ICDP), made up of high-ranking personalities from various countries, Mayor Zaragoza told IPS that reactions like Pérez Molina’s might be comprehensible “because these are places where the situation is extremely difficult, especially as a result of drug trafficking,” as well as paramilitary movements. That is also the case in Mexico, he added.
But the death penalty has no dissuasive effect, just as a rise in the price of drugs does not curtail consumption, he said.
The ICDP is focusing in its meeting this week on the application of capital punishment in cases involving drug-related crimes, said another member of the commission, Ruth Dreifuss, who was president of the Swiss Confederation in 1999.
The situation in Africa, where there is an emerging trend away from the death penalty, is another question on the commission’s agenda.
Europe and South America are virtually free of the death penalty, with the exceptions of Belarus and Guyana, respectively. In both regions, said Dreifuss, the countries have supported each other in the will to do away with capital punishment.
The commission will also discuss the case of China, where the members hope a first step taken will be the provision of information on the use of the death penalty.
Although it is known that China is by far the world leader in capital punishment, there are no figures on just how widely it is used – to the extent that global rights watchdog Amnesty International will only say the country executes “thousands”, because “the information does not exist,” said Dreifuss.
The former Swiss leader said the ICDP is now based in Switzerland because her country is a staunch opponent of the death penalty. Like many other countries, it considers the death penalty a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment that violates human rights.
At the international level there is a contradiction because although all cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment is prohibited by the Torture Convention and other global treaties, 58 countries still have the death penalty on their books, she said.
So far, 104 countries have abolished the death penalty while another 35 have a moratorium on executions, Mayor Zaragoza pointed out. “That makes a total of 139 countries without executions, which is good news,” he enthused.
The ultimate goal of the ICDP and other institutions opposed to the death penalty is complete abolition, said Dreifuss.
But the commission has set a more immediate target: a global moratorium by 2015. Many countries have taken the first step on the way to abolition – suspending executions.
Dreifuss said that while a universal moratorium is gaining support year by year in the U.N. General Assembly, “it is still far from being recognised by all.”
The moratorium should also extend to the handing down of death sentences, and not only to executions, she said.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay concurred, in a statement issued on the occasion of the World Day against the Death Penalty, celebrated Monday, Oct. 10.
“Abolishing the death penalty,” she said “is a long process for many countries, which often only comes to closure after a period of difficult and even acrimonious national debate. Until they reach that point, I urge those States still employing the death penalty to place a formal moratorium on its use with a view to ultimately scrap the punishment altogether everywhere.”
She also expressed her point of view to the members of the ICDP who visited her at OHCHR headquarters in the Palais Wilson on the shores of Lake Leman.
One of the reasons the ICDP secretariat was moved from Madrid to Geneva was to boost its visibility among the U.N. agencies and international organisations based in this Swiss city.
Besides Mayor Zaragoza and Dreifuss, the commission includes former Italian prime minister Giuliano Amato; former Haitian prime minister Michèle Duvivier Pierre-Louis; former foreign minister of Algeria Mohammed Bedjaoui; former French justice minister Robert Badinter; and former Philippine president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The other members are former U.N. high commissioner for human rights Louise Arbour, from Canada; former deputy secretary for human rights in Argentina Rodolfo Mattarollo; the chairwoman of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission, Asma Jahangir; UNESCO chair on philosophy and human rights Ioanna Kuçuradi from Turkey; and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who in 2009 added his state to the list of 15 U.S. states to abolish the death penalty.
On Sunday, 9 October 2011, nearly 20 local activists and supporters gathered together at the Speakers’ Corner to commemorate the 9th World Day Against the Death Penalty. The event, jointly organised by the Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign, We Believe in Second Chances and Think Centre, is part of a global movement started since 2003, to mark October 10 as a World Day against the death penalty across the world. This year’s World Day focuses on the inhumanity of the death penalty as a cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment.
In a statement (Annex) read out at the gathering, it was reiterated that the death penalty “is an ultimate form of cruel, inhuman and degrading form of punishment and it fundamentally goes against Article 3 of the Universal Declarations of Human Rights that states “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”.” The Singapore Government however, guards it’s ‘right’ to impose the death penalty and had been the leading opposition voice in the United Nations against calls for a moratorium on death penalty. Most recently it rejected recommendations to abolish or to impose a moratorium made during Singapore’s Universal Periodic Review at the Human Rights Council (6 May 2011).
Today the world is increasingly moving away from accepting the use of death penalty with two thirds of the world’s countries having already abolished the death penalty in law or in practice. Concerned Singaporeans continues to urge the Singapore Government to rethink it’s current stance on the death penalty and impose a moratorium to create the time and space for society to explore alternate sentencing options and to work ultimately towards its abolishment.
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Statement delivered on 4.30pm, 9 October 2011, Speakers’ Corner, Hong Lim Park, Singapore
We are here today to commemorate the World Day Against the Death Penalty. We would like to once again express our solidarity, with groups and individuals all over the world, in calling for a worldwide end to the use of the death penalty on this day. We believe that the abolition of the death penalty contributes to enhancement of human dignity and progressive development of human rights.
The death penalty is an ultimate form of cruel, inhuman and degrading form of punishment and it fundamentally goes against Article 3 of the Universal Declarations of Human Rights that states “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”.
To date, two thirds of the world’s countries have already abolished the death penalty in law or in practice. This is confirmed by the increase in the number of states supporting a UN General Assembly’s resolution calling for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty with a view to abolishing it since 2007. Efforts made by activists and organizations all over the world who have worked for years to persuade their governments to abolish this form of punishment have also contributed greatly to this development.
In Singapore, it seems that we still remain in the dark ages keeping company with other countries that continues to uphold this abhorrent practice. Locally, the application of the death penalty is problematic as it is rendered as mandatory sentencing, for categories of crimes such as drug trafficking, murder, kidnapping, treason and certain firearms offences.
The majority of publicly known capital cases are related to drug trafficking and related offenses. This is largely due to the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) whereby anyone found carrying the stipulated amount of controlled drugs listed in Section 17 of the Act, shall be presumed to be in possession for the purpose of drug trafficking unless proven otherwise. This meant the presumption of innocence is not guaranteed and the burden of proof shifted to the accused. When convicted, the accused persons are almost guaranteed to meet the hangman unless his clemency plea is accepted by the President of Singapore – of which, not a single appeal has succeeded in the last 12 years.
It has been repeatedly pointed out that the mandatory death penalty (MDP), effectively ties the judges’ hands and deny them of the discretion to look into the mitigating factors. For example, outside of drug-related offences the MDP is also applied against crimes of passion such as murders committed in the spur of the moment when emotions are running high, as well as offenders of unsound mind or sub-par intellect. Such instances only fails to prove the much vaulted deterrence factor of the death penalty that is often purported by the State, and there is always the risk of error in applying the death penalty.
The death penalty has been reduced to an exercise in administrative expediency, with the government withholding crucial statistical figures on the State’s use of the death penalty from the public sphere. Without the necessary facts and figures corroborating the efficacy of the death penalty as a deterrent, the government cannot continue to insist anecdotally that the death penalty is effective in curbing specific crimes.
A conflicting message is also being sent out to our society: we do not condone murder nor do we allow euthanasia, and persons who attempts suicide are committing a crime but yet we allow the Government the liberty of prescribing death and execute premeditated killings, even for non-violent and non-heinous crimes. At what cost to the sanctity of life do we want to maintain peace and security for our society?
We call for a paradigm shift in our judicial system and principles, a shift away from the emphasis on retributive justice as can be seen with the State pre-occupation with the death penalty, towards the emphasis on restorative aspects of justice.
Jacob 69er: See here for photos of the event.
The European Union’s Delegation to Singapore sent out a press release today – the World Day Against the Death Penalty – calling for the abolition of the death penalty worldwide.
The press release, in full, reads as follows:
“On the occasion of the 2011 European and World Day Against The Death Penalty, Catherine Ashton, European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy reaffirmed the European Union’s opposition to the death penalty and Europe’s commitment to its worldwide abolition.
“The EU urges all countries whose legislation includes the death penalty as a form of punishment to immediately introduce a moratorium with a view of a complete abolition.
“A joint declaration released today in Brussels by the European Union (EU) and the Council of Europe (the Council of Europe is an international organisation that counts 47 member countries, including all 27 member countries of the EU) states that:
“The European Union and the Council of Europe reaffirm their united opposition to the death penalty, and their commitment to its worldwide abolition. We consider capital punishment to be inhumane, and a violation of human dignity. Any capital punishment resulting from a miscarriage of justice, from which no legal system can be immune, represents an irreversible loss of human life.
“We welcome the United Nations’ recent resolutions on the global moratorium on the use of the death penalty, with a view to its complete abolition, supported by a wide coalition of States from all regions of the world. The growing support granted to UN resolutions on this matter in 2007, 2008 and 2010 confirms an increasing international trend against the death penalty.”
The EU Delegation to Singapore futher noted that “a growing number of countries have done away with the death penalty (between 1993 and 2009, from 55 countries to 97)”. As of today, 58 countries in the world still retain the death penalty, including Singapore.