{FOI} – Letters On Singapore’s Death Penalty Friday, Nov 30 2007 

Changi Prison - The Age
Click the photo of Singapore’s Changi Prison to read The precision of ritual in the gallows’ shadow

Reconsider mandatory death penalty, ST Forum, Straits Times print edition, 30 Nov 2007

I REFER to the article, ‘The moral case for the death penalty’ (ST, Nov 24).

Before we even begin debating abolition in Singapore, it is important to consider the mandatory nature of the death penalty here.

Singapore makes the death penalty mandatory for murder, and certain instances of drug trafficking.

This means that courts cannot take into account mitigating circumstances in sentencing. Judges are bound by statute to pass the same sentence on a first-time impoverished teenage drug trafficker as they are on a seasoned drug smuggler: death.

One senior local lawyer, Senior Counsel K. S. Rajah, has even labelled the mandatory death penalty ‘The Unconstitutional Punishment’.

Considering the severity of the punishment and the lack of judicial discretion in its imposition, there should be a correspondingly more robust justification of the mandatory death penalty.

It is imperative for our Government to commission a comprehensive review on whether mandatory sentencing has made a meaningful dent in drug-trafficking rates.

It would be helpful for the Government to begin by publishing a breakdown of executions and correlate it to the relevant crime rates.

However, even if the deterrent effect of the death penalty is proven, this does not mean that the death penalty is necessarily the most effective way to deter crime, let alone the most moral.

We need to remember that the death penalty is only one of many deterrent options in the judicial arsenal to fight crime. Introducing the mandatory death penalty for drink-driving would certainly have a revolutionary effect in reducing drink-driving deaths. However, we need to look beyond a two-dimensional analysis of cause and effect when considering criminal law.

As we were reminded in the debate over Section 377A of the Penal Code – a law criminalising gay sex – the criminal law is a reflection of society’s values. Are we going to be a society that is blindly tough on crime at the expense of the famous dictum, Let the punishment fit the crime?

In many circumstances, the mandatory death penalty prevents judges from doing the latter, and hence should be reconsidered.

Choo Zheng Xi


Misleading evidence in support of death penalty, ST Forum online, Straits Times, 30 Nov 2007

I REFER to Dr Andy Ho’s commentary, ‘The moral case for the death penalty’ (ST, Nov 24). Some of the evidence he provides to buttress his claim is quite misleading.

Dr Joanna Shepherd’s study is flawed in that the instruments it uses provide vastly fluctuating results over small ranges of data. This criticism comes from Wharton Professor Justin Wolfers and Yale Professor John Donahue. They also point out that the regression formula used in the Shepherd study has been grossly misapplied, and correct application would lend credence to abolitionism, rather than retentionism. They highlight another study done by researchers Peter Passell and John Taylor, indicating that homicidal rates dropped uniformly in all American states in the mid-1960s. They argue that homicide rates in states that retained and abolished the death penalty changed in an identical pattern, contrary to what studies like Dr Shepherd’s show.

Dr Ho’s example of Britain can be called to question under similar terms of reference. The escalating conflict in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s in Northern Ireland would probably better account for the increasing disorder in prisons, rather than the abolition of the death penalty in 1965. One should also note a separate data study by the New Zealand Police Force, which showed that all crime rates fell significantly following abolition in New Zealand.

But more problematic is Dr Ho’s chief premise. His utilitarian analogy prompts the question: Is pushing the man into the path of the trolley the only way to prevent death? And are the five people nothing but mirages, created by the zeal of retentionists like Dr Ho? After all, not everyone is Jack the Ripper. Studies have shown that people who kill have been driven to kill by passion.

Nonetheless, Dr Ho makes one important observation at the end of his piece, which governments should heed when devising ever harsher punishments for terrorists. He cautions that over-severe punishments may lead to a counter-deterrent effect, because they allow the terrorist organisations to fan up waves of discontent.

In conclusion, I hope Dr Ho and his cohort will carefully reconsider the merits of holding on to a medieval stricture.

Clement Wee Hong En


That capital punishment saves lives is not enough, ST Forum online, Straits Times, 30 Nov 2007

THE moratorium on capital punishment, approved last week by the United Nations General Assembly by 99 to 52 votes (with 33 countries abstaining), is a curious development in world politics.

Given its record on executions, it is only logical that Singapore would spearhead the fight against this non-binding resolution (see article by Andy Ho, ‘The moral case for the death penalty’; ST, Nov 24).

It was the title of the article that prompted me to read it. I even went to the Web and did some further reading on the study quoted by Dr Joanna Shepherd and related literature.

One could say, therefore, that the title served its purpose. However, I must admit the content of the article did not help me at all to see any strong ‘moral case’ for the death penalty.

All I can conclude is that, if we accept at face value the reliability of the findings of this and other studies – something not beyond debate but which, for the sake of the argument, I don’t want to contest here – then there is statistical evidence that supports the deterrent effect of capital punishment and that, therefore, it would make pragmatic sense to use such a deterrent.

I understand Dr Ho when he advocates that ‘the penalty should remain on the books, if only to use for the worst of the worst’.

But I fail to see the qualification and logic of his conclusion where he writes: ‘This, I think, is the position morally required of all governments because some innocent lives can thereby be saved.’

The contention (or even the fact) that innocent lives could be saved by laws demanding capital punishment for certain crimes does not in itself lead to any moral requirement for a government to enact such a law.

At the most, there might be a demand of logic or expediency, not a moral demand.

What is more: By the same argument – saving some innocent lives – one might very well advocate capital punishment for any form of grossly reckless or dangerous behaviour, like for drink driving when it causes fatalities in an accident.

In sum: It takes more than a good effect before we can justify an extreme remedy, something that could be used ‘for the worst of the worst’.

Paul E. Staes

VIDEO: Burmese In Singapore’s Police State Friday, Nov 30 2007 

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Arrests In Burma Continue Two Months On; Human Rights In ASEAN Charter And Beyond Thursday, Nov 29 2007 

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Myanmar: arrests continue two months on, Amnesty International, 28 Nov 2007

Amnesty International condemns the new arrests of political activists inside Myanmar, despite the commitment by Prime Minister Thein Sein to the UN Special Representative Ibrahim Gambari in early November that no more arrests would be carried out.

“Two months after the violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators, arbitrary arrests continue unabated as part of the Myanmmar government’s systematic suppression of freedom of expression and association, contrary to its claims of a return to normalcy,” said Catherine Baber, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Programme Director.

“Normalcy for the military government may mean a return to systematic and widespread human rights violations away from media attention, but the international community must no longer tolerate this situation,” added Catherine Baber.

Amnesty International confirms that the following arrests have occurred since early November:

On 4 November, U Gambira, head of the All-Burma Monks Alliance and a leader of the September protests, was arrested and reportedly charged with treason. Two of his family members previously detained as ‘hostages’ in an attempt to force him out of hiding, have been kept in detention;

On 13 November, the government arrested Su Su Nway, a member of the youth wing of the main opposition National League for Democracy party. Fellow youth activist Bo Bo Win Hlaing was arrested along with her while putting up anti-government posters;

On 14 November, at least three people were arrested in Yangon for passing out anti-government pamphlets;

On 15 November, authorities raided a monastery in western Rakhine State, and arrested monk U Than Rama, wanted for his involvement in the September protests. He was reportedly beaten during the raid and his whereabouts remain unknown;

On 20 November, Myint Naing, a senior member of the National League for Democracy was detained;

On 20 November, ethnic Arakanese leader U Tin Ohn was detained and his whereabouts remain unknown;

On 20 and 21 November, other ethnic leaders, including Arakanese Cin Sian Thang and U Aye Thar Aung, Naing Ngwe Thein from the Mon National Democracy Front, and Kachin political leader U Hkun Htoo were rounded up but released after questioning;

On 26 November, Aung Zaw Oo, a member of the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters group, was arrested in Yangon, likely on account of his involvement in planning events for International Human Rights Day on 10 December.

Amnesty International is deeply disappointed by the fact that these arrests are still taking place despite the government’s promises to the contrary. Just last week, the Myanmar government was attending ASEAN’s 40th Anniversary Summit, where it signed the organization’s new Charter committing it to the “promotion and protection of human rights”.

To date, up to 700 people arrested during and since the September protests remain behind bars, while 1,150 political prisoners held prior to the protests have not been released.

Amnesty International is urgently calling on the government of Myanmar to release all those detained or imprisoned merely for the peaceful exercises of their right to freedom of expression, assembly and association, including both long-term and recent prisoners of conscience, and to stop making further arrests.


ASEAN: human rights in the Charter and beyond, Amnesty International, 21 Nov 2007

Amnesty International notes that the Charter of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), has been signed by leaders of ASEAN at its 13th Summit now being held in Singapore. Amnesty International welcomes the inclusion of a commitment within the ASEAN Charter to promote, protect and respect human rights and to establish a regional human rights body. However, the organisation is deeply concerned that the process followed thus far to establish an ASEAN Charter has been largely opaque and non-participatory. Despite the existence of a vibrant, active and dedicated civil society in the region which has been at the forefront of efforts to push forward an ASEAN Charter with a strong human rights component, consultation with civil society on the content of the Charter has been severely limited.

The organisation is concerned that any commitments made within the existing Charter to human rights protection will remain empty gestures unless they are followed by concrete action in a timely manner. This would include immediately addressing serious violations of human rights within ASEAN member states, and by setting up an effective human rights body. Such a body should be capable of addressing the human rights violations which are so prevalent a feature in parts of the ASEAN region, and to ensure that what the Charter calls “a people-oriented ASEAN” means in reality a human rights-oriented ASEAN.

Human rights in the ASEAN region

Over the years Amnesty International has documented a wide range of human rights violations- civil and political as well as social economic and cultural – across the ASEAN region, and notes that the region has seen violations that are both national and transnational in nature.

The current crisis in Myanmar, which is in fact a continuation of decades of serious human rights violations, some of which constitute crimes against humanity, is a case in point. ASEAN has so far been unable to bring about a halt to these violations, despite Myanmar being a member state. It is unclear to Amnesty International how the military government of this state was able to – or indeed was allowed to – sign the ASEAN Charter, when that government is clearly already in what the Charter reportedly calls “a serious breach” of its human rights provisions. Amnesty International is concerned that the ASEAN Charter may have lost credibility right from the beginning. Amnesty International is encouraged by reports that some ASEAN leaders share these concerns.

The cross-border movement of individuals across the region has included serious violations of human rights; whether it be the exploitation of victims of human trafficking, refugees and asylum seekers moving in search of protection from persecution, or the movement of migrant workers in search of a livelihood in the more prosperous ASEAN countries where they are often subject to abuse of their human rights including labour rights. While ASEAN has recently declared its intention to address some of these issues, concrete improvements on the ground are yet to be seen. Other violations prevalent across the ASEAN region include torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, extrajudicial executions, widespread violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law within internal armed conflicts, violence against women, restrictions of freedom of expression, assembly and association and disregard for economic, social and cultural rights of marginalised communities. Amnesty International calls on ASEAN to take up the challenge of comprehensively addressing all of these human rights concerns.

ASEAN human rights body

Amnesty International urges ASEAN to adopt a transparent and participatory approach to the setting up of the human rights body. Civil society organisations, including human rights NGOs, trade unions, social movements, women’s organizations, minority groups and members of the public, must have a prominent role in both the shaping of the human rights body’s mandate and its ongoing function. Civil society can contribute substantially to the human rights body’s ability to bring about compliance with international human rights law and standards on both the regional and national levels, as well as provide essential feedback on the work of the human rights body.

Amnesty International calls on ASEAN to establish a reasonable timeframe within which the human rights body will be set up. The organization also calls on ASEAN, when determining the terms and reference of the body, to ensure as a priority that international human rights law and standards provide a benchmark for all action undertaken by the body, in common with other regional human rights monitoring bodies.

The ASEAN human rights body must itself be – or else, if representative of governments, must have the power to appoint – an independent, impartial, competent, well-resourced, professional human rights body, whose membership reflects the region’s diverse peoples and cultures as well as gender parity. Members should be nominated and elected in a transparent process involving civil society at every stage of the proceedings.

As a minimum, the human rights body should:

o Work for and provide advice on the ratification and implementation of human rights and international humanitarian law treaties, including establishing effective training;
o Encourage and support states parties’ timely and adequate reporting to UN human rights treaty-monitoring bodies;
o Urge member states to invite UN Special Procedures to visit and to provide them with full assistance and access;
o Encourage states to implement recommendations of UN treaty bodies and Special Procedures, and provide advice regarding such implementation;
o Encourage the establishment and operation of national human rights institutions in accordance with the UN Principles relating to the status of national institutions (the “Paris Principles”);
o Investigate specific human rights situations, in response to submissions by individuals, organisations or states, or on its own motion;
o Develop tools and materials for human rights education and help member states in providing human rights education and training, both for state officials and for the public as a whole; and
o Work with and provide advice to national and regional human rights defenders, as well as ensuring that states allow them to carry out their work unhindered.

The human rights body must have the authority and be provided with sufficient resources to carry out these tasks in a timely and effective manner.

Finally, Amnesty International strongly recommends that the human rights body’s initial mandate should allow the future development, expansion and elaboration of mechanisms which will be able to prevent human rights violations and provide an effective level of protection, monitoring and promotion of human rights throughout the ASEAN region. Amnesty International urges ASEAN leaders to ensure that the future process of elaboration of the human rights body enables the effective and transparent engagement of civil society groups in order to ensure that people and their human rights are at the heart of this body.

The Hub – By Witness Tuesday, Nov 27 2007 


The Hub

{FOI} – Bloggers Want In On Panel’s New Media Study Tuesday, Nov 27 2007 

They plan to gather feedback, submit a paper to the govt-appointed council

by Jeremy Au Yong, Straits Times, 27 Nov 2007

WORRIED that a study on new media would be too focused on expert views, bloggers are getting together to make themselves heard.

Bloggers from two popular websites – yawningbread.org and theonlinecitizen.com – are calling for a meeting of Web ‘practitioners’ to gather feedback on how the Web should be regulated.

Notices posted on both sites say this of the government-linked study: ‘So far, those being consulted appear to be the elite – the experts.

‘There is a need for ordinary bloggers – and filmmakers who intend to put video material on the Internet – to get together and organise a submission to the relevant bodies, putting across the perspective of practitioners.’

Their plan is to have a small meeting of 20 to 25 bloggers on Dec 4 at The Substation in Armenian Street.

The study that triggered this move is conducted by the Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society, or Aims.

The council was appointed by the Government in April to study the social, ethical, legal and regulatory impact of interactive and digital media.

Aims is still gathering information for a report that is due for release for public consultation in the first half of next year. As such, the conclusions are still up in the air.

Although Aims has invited some bloggers for roundtable discussions, it is not enough for bloggers like Mr Choo Zheng Xi, a law undergraduate at the National University of Singapore.

Said the 21-year-old who owns theonlinecitizen.com: ‘We thought a submission paper would be more impactful than five or six bloggers sitting with a whole lot of other people.

‘This is bloggers stepping up to bat. We want to take the lead in crafting the direction legislation will take. We don’t want to just provide feedback.’

Mr Alex Au, who runs yawningbread.org agreed, added that while Aims was the trigger for the meeting, it will not be the sole focus.

‘I don’t want to narrow it down. People may want to submit their feedback to other bodies or even get another parliamentary petition.’

Media researcher Tan Tarn How of the Institute of Policy Studies, who has been invited to the bloggers’ meeting, said the move is a win-win proposition.

‘A written submission, which will be debated by the public and blogged about will make the process of the study more informed and extensive.

‘For the bloggers, it’s useful to put out their views like this, as it is unfiltered.’

On the part of the council, chairman Cheong Yip Seng welcomed input from the meeting and stressed that Aims ‘intends to seek input from a wide cross-section of society, not just experts’.

He said: ‘We will be happy to consider submissions from anyone who believes he can help the development of interactive digital media and at the same time manage its ill-effects.’

Women’s Networks Call for Release of Burmese Women Prisoners Monday, Nov 26 2007 

By Saw Yan Naing, The Irrawaddy, 23 Nov 2007

International women’s networks launched a campaign on Friday calling for the immediate and unconditional release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and all women activists who were detained during the September protests.

International women’s networks are joined by women’s rights groups, as well as individual activists in countries in Europe, the United States, Japan, India, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and other Asian countries.

The women’s network said 106 women are currently being held in detention, including six nuns.

Paw Hset Hser, spokeswoman for the Women’s League for Burma, said, “We are gravely concerned about the safety and well-being of activists on the run and all political prisoners in prisons and detention centers throughout Burma.”

Women are being used by the regime in a smear campaigns against activists and are often forced to admit on camera to having sexual affairs with monks, according to a statement released by WLB on Friday. The report notes that breastfeeding mothers, pregnant women and elderly women have also been targeted by the regime’s paramilitary forces and secret police.

Paw Hset Hser said, “We are particularly concerned that the women, including nuns, recently detained, are facing gender and sexual violence in addition to the other deprivations and unacceptable conditions in the prisons.”

Beginning on November 25—the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women—women’s networks will be demanding the release of all detainees by December 10, said the statement.

The Thailand-based Women’s League of Burma also launched a campaign in Bangkok with the release of a report titled “Courage to Resist” — detailing how women activists were hunted down, assaulted, tortured and forcibly charged. Family members of those arrested women were also threatened and held hostage.

WLB is also calling for the UN special rapporteur, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, to conduct a mission of inquiry into violence against women in Burma.

VIDEOS: 24 Nov MARUAH Forum Monday, Nov 26 2007 

Siew Kum Hong: Public forum – Human rights – the ASEAN charter and beyond

Click HERE for more videos of the event

VIDEO: Malaysian Ethnic Indians Protest Against Discrimination Sunday, Nov 25 2007 

Read Al Jazeera English report here

Malaysia’s veteran opposition politician Lim Kit Siang: Hindraf rally: excessive use of police force with firing of tear gas and water cannons

Read the 24 Nov statement by Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, President of Malaysia’s National Human Rights Society (HAKAM) AND his post The personal dignity of HINDRAF supporters

Related post: Thousands protest in Malaysia for free and fair elections

VIDEO: Burmese Peaceful Demo At Orchard Rd Sunday, Nov 25 2007 

Related post: Activists test Singapore with ASEAN protests

VIDEO: NUS International Students’ Walk For Burma Saturday, Nov 24 2007 

Related posts: Students defy Myanmar protest ban at ASEAN summit AND Protest Singapore style: 3 marchers, 19 media, 1000 police

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