President Dr. Tony Tan Keng Yam of Singapore should commute the death sentence in the heroin possession case of Yong Vui Kong, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to President Tan Keng Yam. Should he deny what could be a final request for clemency, Yong Vui Kong, a 20-year-old Malaysian national, could be executed within weeks.
In November 2008, a Singapore court found Yong guilty under the Misuse of Drugs Act for possession of 42.27 grams of heroin. Under Singaporean law, possession of 15 grams or more of heroin carries a mandatory death sentence.
“Executing another young man for a narcotics offense will only reinforce the image of Singapore’s authorities as oblivious to basic rights and due process,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Singapore’s mandatory death sentences clearly violate international human rights standards.”
While Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty, Yong’s case raises additional human rights, humanitarian, and due process concerns, Human Rights Watch said. Singapore’s use of the death penalty is inconsistent with international human rights law, statements of UN human rights experts, and UN bodies.
Human rights law upholds every human being’s “inherent right to life” and limits the death penalty to “the most serious crimes,” typically crimes resulting in death. The mandatory nature of Singapore’s drug penalty has been criticized as violating international standards by eliminating the discretion of the court, making it impossible to take into account mitigating or extenuating circumstances and eliminating any individual determination of an appropriate sentence in a particular case.
The law minister, K. Shanmugam, contends that exceptions to the use of the death penalty based on personal circumstances would encourage more people to take up the drug trade, thus undermining Singapore’s anti-drug efforts. Even if these assertions were true – and Singapore declines to routinely make drug-related statistics public – it would not justify imposition of a penalty that so flagrantly violates fundamental rights over less severe penalties that would still act as a deterrent, Human Rights Watch said. There has been little national or international evidence to support the Singapore government’s assertion.
Singapore should join with the many countries already committed to the UN General Assembly’s December 18, 2007 resolution calling for a moratorium on executions and a move by member states toward abolition of the death penalty, Human Rights Watch said. In a March 2010 report, the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes called for an end to the death penalty and specifically urged member countries to prohibit use of the death penalty for drug-related offenses while urging countries to take an overall “human rights-based approach to drug and crime control.”
“Singapore should recognize that its reputation as a modern and highly developed country depends on its aligning with the growing global consensus against the death penalty,” Robertson said.