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Singapore’s Death Penalty Claims Another Life

Moratorium on Executions Needed as a Step to Abolition

People walk past the Supreme Court in Singapore January 22, 2014. © 2014 Reuters

Singapore authorities have taken another life with the execution of Ghanaian Bill Agbozo for transporting 1.63 kilograms of methamphetamine. Agbozo, who was arrested on April 5, 2013 at Changi Airport, was hanged on Friday after his appeal for clemency was rejected.

While Singapore does not make public the scheduling of executions, reports indicate that another execution will take place on March 16. Singapore should, instead, end its use of capital punishment.

Under Singapore’s Misuse of Drugs Act, the courts must apply the death penalty for drug offenses involving more than specified quantities. The only exceptions are if the court finds the defendant is merely a courier and the prosecutor certifies that the defendant provided “substantial assistance in disrupting drug trafficking,” or if the defendant proves he or she is suffering from an “abnormality of the mind.” These limited exceptions to what is otherwise a mandatory death penalty provide little hope for defendants.

As I know from my time prosecuting drug cases in New York City, couriers rarely have information sufficient to provide “substantial assistance in disrupting drug trafficking.” In the case of Agbozo, while the court found that he was “acting as no more than a courier,” the prosecutor did not provide the required certification and Agbozo was sentenced to death.

International human rights law restricts the use of the death penalty to only “the most serious crimes,” which the United Nations has defined as “intentional crimes with lethal or other extremely grave consequences.” The UN Human Rights Committee and the UN expert on unlawful killings, Christof Heyns, have condemned using the death penalty in drug cases.

Most countries have abolished the death penalty outright, while dozens have adopted a de facto moratorium. Singapore, by contrast, reaffirmed its use of the death penalty in 2012 – US President Donald Trump recently praised Singapore specifically for executing drug dealers. Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all circumstances as an inherently cruel and uniquely final punishment that deserves no place in modern society. It is time for Singapore to call a moratorium on executions on its way to ending this barbaric practice.

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