U.N. Plans to Resume Capital Punishment Debate Tuesday, Mar 4 2008 

by Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 25 (IPS) – The contentious debate on the death penalty — which split the 192-member U.N. General Assembly last December — is refusing to die.

A group of 58 countries, strongly supportive of capital punishment, has written to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “placing on record that they are in persistent objection to any attempt to impose a moratorium on the use of the death penalty or its abolition.”

Any attempts to place either a moratorium or abolish capital punishment are in violation of existing stipulations under international law, according to their written submission, described in U.N. jargon as a “note verbale”, to the secretary-general.

The statement has been issued on the eve of the International Death Penalty Abolition Day, which will be commemorated next Saturday, Mar. 1.

All 58 countries seeking to “retain” the death penalty — described as “retentionists” — have reinforced their pro-death penalty arguments through a collective note.

The list includes virtually all of the members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), along with the Bahamas, China, North Korea, Japan, Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Uganda, Singapore and Zimbabwe.

“This note verbale, signed by 58 delegations, underscores once again that there is no international consensus on the use of the death of penalty,” Ambassador Vanu Gopala Menon of Singapore told IPS.

When a disputed resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty was put to a vote in the General Assembly last December, there were 104 in favour and 54 against, with 29 abstentions. The “ayes” won.

Still, the General Assembly resolution, unlike a Security Council resolution, is not binding and does not have legal force or authority.

At least four countries — Belize, Chad, India and the United States — which voted against the resolution in December, did not sign the note verbale for some unaccountable reason.

But eight countries that abstained — Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Fiji, Guinea, Laos, Swaziland and the United Arab Emirates — have signed the statement and joined the retentionists.

A Third World diplomat, who was also a signatory to the note verbale, told IPS: “The collective statement is to signal to the other side that we do not accept the outcome of the General Assembly vote. We expected the battle to be resumed.”

As a result, the death penalty issue will come up again during the 63rd session of the General Assembly, beginning September this year.

“That’s almost provided for in the resolution that was adopted through a vote, which places the issue on the agenda of the 63rd session,” the diplomat added. “We opposed it, saying that we should avoid this acrimony again, at least not so soon.”

But the co-sponsors of the December resolution, he pointed out, rejected that argument, and insisted on putting on the agenda of the next General Assembly sessions.

In their statement, the 58 countries say that capital punishment has often been characterised as a human rights issue in the context of the right of the convicted prisoner to life.

“However, it is first and foremost an issue of the criminal justice system and an important deterring element vis-a-vis the most serious crimes. It must therefore be viewed from a much broader perspective and weighed against the rights of the victims and the right of the community to live in peace and security.”

The statement continued: “Every state has an inalienable right to choose its political, economic, social, cultural and legal justice systems, without interference in any form by another state.” Furthermore, “Nothing in the U.N. charter authorises the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.”

The campaign for the abolition of the death penalty has been spearheaded by the 27-member European Union (EU), which claimed a moral victory with the General Assembly vote.

Singapore, one of the consistent campaigners on the side of the death penalty, has strongly disagreed with the EU on the issue of capital punishment.

Menon, the Singapore envoy, told the General Assembly in December just after the vote: “It is unfortunate that the sponsors have handled this not as a debate but a lecture — their views, in their reckoning, being the only legitimate ones.”

He said “they may have made pronouncements to the contrary, but there was never any real attempt to seek consensus or persuade by argument.”

“We saw the main sponsors refusing to acknowledge an article in the U.N. Charter, which states that ‘nothing in the Charter shall authorise the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any State’.”

“They opposed what they said were selective quotations and then quoted selectively themselves,” Menon said.

“They also voted en masse against amendments which no reasonable person would dispute — for instance, that there is a great diversity of legal, social, economic and cultural conditions in the world,” he declared.


A Big-Time Burmese Drug Trafficker’s Singaporean Connection Saturday, Mar 1 2008 

by Brian McCartan, Asia Sentinel, 29 Feb 2008

In an action that Burma watchers view as long overdue, the United States earlier this week slapped financial sanctions on wealthy Burmese businessman Lo Hsing Han, his US-educated son, Steven Law and Law’s wife, Cecilia Ng, a Singaporean businesswoman.

At least 10 Singaporean companies owned by Law’s wife have been targeted by the sanctions. Among other things, the sanctions point up the often-unhealthy way the Singaporean government chooses to ignore relationships between its financial community and unsavory Burmese businessmen. Because of the ties to Lo’s main corporate vehicle, Asia World Co. Ltd, the story also illustrates graphically the narco-state that Burma’s rulers have visited upon the world stage.

Asia World is targeted by sanctions also. And, included among the Singaporean companies owned by Ng is Golden Aaron Pte Ltd, which has been linked to the Chinese state-controlled oil and gas giant, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC). Under the sanctions, any bank accounts and financial assets the individuals or their companies hold in the United States are frozen and Americans are forbidden from doing business with them.

Asia World is considered to be Burma’s biggest and most diversified conglomerate. Lo is chairman and Steven Law is the company’s managing director. In a 1997 article, The Nation, a US magazine, described a web of connections between Asia World and the Singapore government, which “is directly connected to key business ventures of drug kingpin Lo” through a series of investments in the Myanmar Fund, including some by the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC).

In a letter to the magazine the Singapore embassy in the US said that GIC was a passive investor in the Myanmar Fund and was not involved in investment decisions and that the Myanmar Fund had been wound up.

Asia World is involved in industrial investment, development, construction and transportation. It imports and distributes goods into Burma and owns a supermarket chain. It was recently involved in road construction from Pyin Oo Lwin in Shan State to the Chinese border, the renovation of Rangoon’s international airport and the construction of a deep water seaport at Ahlone near Rangoon. It was also one of two main contractors for the construction of the new capitol at Naypyidaw. In 2001 the company’s authorized capital was given at about US$40 million.

Rangoon’s port, which handles 40 percent of Burma’s container traffic, is also run by Asia World which also operates a cargo and shipping business from the port. This and Lo’s ownership of Burma’s largest bus company has led some to speculate about whether he is using the facilities for continued drug trafficking.

Lo and Steven Law were refused visas to travel to the US as long ago as 1996 for suspected drug trafficking activities. The property interests of Golden Aaron are now reportedly blocked.

These moves follow sanctions earlier this month against the business empire of Burmese tycoon Tay Za and 33 other Burmese generals and business people and 11 companies which have had their assets frozen and were denied travel to the US. This is the latest in an ongoing series of financial sanctions aimed at hurting Burma’s ruling State Peace and Development Council through its business contacts.

“Unless the ruling junta in Burma halts the violent suppression of its peoples, we will continue to target those like Steven Law who sustain and who profit corruptly because of that support,” said Stuart Levy, Treasury Department Under-Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.

According to the Treasury Department, “In addition to their support for the Burmese regime, Steven Law and Lo Hsing Han have a history of involvement in illicit activities. Lo, known as the ‘Godfather of Heroin,’ has been one of the world’s key heroin traffickers dating back to the early 1970s. Law joined his father’s drug empire in the 1990s and has since become one of the wealthiest individuals in Burma.”

The saga of how Lo and his son acquired their fortune and the outward trappings of respectability has many twists and turns including several brushes with death. Lo, 70 or 73 years old depending on the source, began in the drug trade in 1960 when he organized a local militia in the Kokang area of Shan State. The government turned a blind eye to Lo’s drug trafficking in exchange for his assistance in fighting Shan insurgents. He was dubbed the “King of Opium” by US authorities in the 1970s.

His fortunes then changed. Thai police arrested Lo in 1973 and deported him back to Burma, where he was found guilty of rebellion and sentenced to death. However, he was given amnesty in 1980, and he moved back to Shan State where he built his headquarters at Salween Village near Nampawng southwest of Lashio. He immediately reestablished himself with a new militia and resumed his role in the drug trade.

The wisdom behind granting Lo amnesty was borne out when Lt General Khin Nyunt used him as a go-between in 1989 in arranging ceasefires with Kokang and Wa insurgents who had recently mutinied against their Burmese Communist Party leaders. In exchange, according to a memo from the Thai Office of Narcotics Control Board in 1993, Khin Nyunt gave Lo the right “to smuggle heroin from the Kokang Group to Tachilek [on the border with Thailand] without interception.” By 1994 he controlled what was regarded as the most heavily armed drug trafficking organization in Southeast Asia.

Lo also gained unfettered access to the Burmese economy for his part in the ceasefire deals. This was further enhanced when in the early 1990s, with the Burmese economy on the brink of collapse, the generals turned to traffickers to invest their money in legal and semi-legal businesses. A “whitening” tax of 40 percent, later reduced to 25 percent, was levied on funds repatriated from bank accounts in Bangkok and Singapore. It was also at this time, on June 5, 1992, that Lo set up Asia World.

Law enforcement officials say indications are that since the mid-1990s Lo has stepped back from direct involvement in the drug trade, although he does reportedly maintain contacts, and that has not stopped western law enforcement agencies from trying to find evidence of his continued role, so far without success.

Lo’s business empire, international observers believe, is built on the profits from his drug trafficking activities. These businesses and his money have proved invaluable to the junta.

Lo has maintained strong relations with Burma’s ruling generals. At Steven Law and Cecilia Ng’s 1996 wedding, among the guests was then-Hotels and Tourism Minister Lt General Kyaw Ba as well as three other generals and four cabinet ministers. Lo also organized the catering for the extravagant wedding party thrown for the daughter of Burma’s Senior General Than Shwe in 2006. Despite Lo’s relations with Khin Nyunt, he was notably unaffected when the general was placed under house arrest in 2004.

Lo also has been described by government figures as the most prominent partner for foreigners wishing to invest in Burma, with a massive amount of the joint venture investment done through Asia World. For example, an agreement to import cooking oil from companies controlled by Malaysian billionaire Robert Kuok reportedly has grown into very lucrative real estate and construction deals, including the construction of the Trader’s Hotel in Rangoon, in which Asia World holds shares.

Another joint venture was with Sinmardev International Pte Ltd of Singapore. Headed by Albert Hong, Sinmardev was a consortium of Singaporean and other companies that built a US$207 million industrial park and port on the outskirts of Rangoon. Asia World contracted for part of the construction and holds shares in the project along with the members of the junta and several international investors.

Steven Law, who also goes by Tun Myint Naing, is the managing director of Golden Aaron, which has now been linked to CNOOC. The link was spotted by David Webb, a business commentator and non-executive director of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The relationship goes back to an October 2004 production-sharing contract between Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise and a business group formed by CNOOC Myanmar, Golden Aaron and China Huanqui Contracting and Engineering Corp to explore for oil and gas in Kyaukphyu township of Rakhine State.

According to the official New Light of Myanmar newspaper, the signing ceremony was attended by CNOOC chairman Fu Chengyu and Golden Aaron director Chua Chay Jin.

CNOOC’s 2004 annual report listed itself as the operator of a joint venture with Golden Aaron and China Global Engineering Corp. through which it owns five exploration licenses covering 73,152 square kilometers. The licenses will run out on March 12, 2008 unless they are renewed. The gas deposits are part of the controversial Shwe gas project which is to include a gas pipeline through Burma to China. Human rights organizations have frequently cited abuses related to the project and have called for its cancellation.

The US sanctions may also have an effect on Singapore. The island republic has long been accused of being a shopping and financial center for Burmese generals and narcotics traffickers. Former US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Robert Gelbard, said in 1997, “since 1998 over half of [the investments from] Singapore have been tied to the family of narco-trafficker Lo Hsing Han.”

Singaporean banks have been repeatedly accused of being used for money laundering by Burmese narcotics traffickers. Although Singapore does have what are considered by the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering effective anti-money laundering mechanisms, the fact that figures such as Lo and Law are able to continue to do business there and keep banks accounts has prompted much speculation. In a recent step to detect money laundering, the Singaporean police announced that after 1 November 2007, anyone carrying or transferring more than $20,650 would be required to submit a report to the immigration authorities.

Whether or not the money is from drug profits, it is being used to finance investment in Burma that the US and international observers claim prop up the regime. While US financial sanctions are not aimed directly at Singapore or its banks, the hint is there that by dealing with individuals and firms on the sanctions list, the banks risk bad publicity.

Although the Monetary Authority of Singapore is unlikely to advise banks to cut ties with Burmese firms as a result of the US sanctions, some analysts believe Singaporean banks are taking steps to restrict their links to Burmese companies. The refusal of Singaporean banks to deal with Burmese tycoon Tay Za’s Air Bagan airline is seen as a possible example of this. In addition, in late October 2007 the Irrawaddy magazine reported that bank transfers between United Overseas Bank of Singapore and Burma had been suspended temporarily. The risks to their banking relationships with the US may be forcing Singaporean banks to re-evaluate doing business with Burmese firms.

International Campaign to Stop Drug Executions Gearing Up Friday, Jan 11 2008 

Drug War Chronicle, 11 Jan 2008

The notices generally appear as brief blips on the news wires, or perhaps as one-paragraph summaries in the international sections of newspapers: “Iran Hangs Three for Heroin Smuggling,” “Vietnam Sentences 12 to Death for Drugs,” “Malaysia to Execute Man For Five Pounds of Cannabis.” The notices may be brief, but there is a steady drumbeat of them. In just the past week came news that Iran had handed over the body of a Pakistani man executed for drug trafficking and that Malaysia had sentenced a bill collector to death for drug trafficking.

Despite the steadily rising toll, the use of the death penalty as a tool in the war on drugs rarely receives much attention, let alone sustained analysis. But that could be beginning to change as harm reduction and human rights organizations gear up to put the state-sanctioned killing of drug offenders in the international spotlight. The opening volley in that effort took place last month, when the International Harm Reduction Association released a report on the use of the death penalty for drug offenses that both details the extent of the problem and qualifies it as a violation of international human rights law.

The report, The Death Penalty for Drug Offences: A Violation of International Human Rights Law, authored by IHRA analyst Rick Lines, finds that some 32 countries have drug offense death penalty provisions on their books, mostly in North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. While the death penalty is typically reserved for drug sales, trafficking, or manufacture, that is not always the case, and in some countries, mere possession can warrant a death sentence.

The number of people executed for drug offenses easily runs into the hundreds, perhaps even more, each year. In the last month, Vietnam alone has sentenced more than 40 people to death for drug offenses, while from Iran comes a steady drumbeat of notices from the state news agency that another trafficker or two or three has been hanged. China has been known to hold mass public executions of drug offenders, while in Singapore, dozens of drug offenders face the executioner each year.

Still, the exact number of executions is unknowable. That’s because countries either do not provide details on the number of executions or do not provide breakdowns of why people were executed.

“Because some countries — China, for instance — do not release details of the number of executions they carry out each year, it is impossible to arrive at an accurate yearly total of drug war executions,” said Lines. “While we can’t arrive at an accurate number, suffice it to say that in some countries, as detailed in the report, drug offenders constitute a significant percentage of all executions each year, so this is a major issue in some countries.”

Those killings violate international human rights law, the report argues. While international law does not ban capital punishment, it does limit it in significant ways. The report notes that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights says the death penalty may be applied only for the “most serious crimes.” Both the UN Human Rights Committee and the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions have found that drug offenses do not constitute “most serious crimes,” which makes executing drug offenders a violation of international law.

“Capital punishment for drug offences is but one illustration of how human rights have been sacrificed in the name of the ‘war on drugs,'” said Professor Gerry Stimson, the IHRA’s executive director. “Unfortunately, the death penalty is not the only example of such abuses worldwide. Repressive law enforcement practices, the denial of health services to drug users and the spread of HIV infection among people who inject drugs, due to lack of access to harm reduction programs, are far too common in many countries across the globe.”

While the IHRA is working all these issues, it is now preparing to bring the death penalty issue to the forefront as part of a broader campaign to tie harm reduction and human rights together. “This report is the first research report from our new HR2 — harm reduction and human rights — program, and one of our main emphases in this new program is research and advocacy on human rights issues related to drug policy and human rights abuses against people who use drugs,” said Lines. “The death penalty is an obvious issue in that regard, and an important one to highlight with our first publication. This is part of a broader campaign, and we will be using the research in various ways to highlight the issue at the international level in 2008.”

The emerging campaign against the death penalty for drug offenders is part of a broader effort to bring more attention to human rights abuses against people involved with drugs, said Lines. “Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have been very supportive of our work on this issue and have provided important advice and information along the way,” he said. “This is an important link for us. We hope the issue of the death penalty for drugs is one that might be used to raise the issue of human rights abuses and drug policy more generally within the mainstream human rights movement.”

IHRA will be working with human rights groups as well as its international network of regional harm reduction groups to put the issue in the spotlight this year. In the US, that means groups like the Harm Reduction Coalition will be joining the fight.

“Our general feeling is that the more repressive the legal environment, the less room for implementing harm reduction measures around HIV prevention, overdose prevention, and related issues,” said Daniel Raymond, the coalition’s policy director, “We see a direct correlation in places like Thailand,” he said.

The Harm Reduction Coalition has already been working the issue to a limited degree and plans to do more, Raymond said. “We’ve done a little work around China and its tendency to celebrate the international day against drugs by executing people, and we’ve been involved in the discussions between the IHRA and the regional harm reduction networks on this,” he said. “We will be involved again as this campaign begins to gear up. We’re very interested in pressure to bear and in bringing the harm reduction community in the US into this issue.”

Lines said it is time to act. “As I did the research for this report, I was surprised how little attention this issue has received, despite the fact that executions for drug offenses clearly violate international law. There was much less literature on the topic than I assumed there would be when I started,” he noted. “I was also surprised to see that while the worldwide trend is clearly toward the abolition of the capital punishment — the number of countries with the death penalty has steadily decreased over the past 20 years — at the same time, the number of countries with laws allowing the death penalty for drugs has increased,” Lines continued. “That’s completely opposite to the general trend away from capital punishment. I think this is an issue where we can almost empirically measure the negative effects of the war on drugs on human rights.”

The campaign against the death penalty for drug offenses got a boost last month when the UN General Assembly called for a moratorium on the death penalty for all offenses. Now, the IHRA, its regional network, and mainstream human rights organizations are ready to bring on the pressure.

“We will begin to initiate more direct lobbying and campaigning this year,” Lines promised. “I can’t go into any more detail at the moment, but you have not heard the last from us on this issue.”

Milestone in Death Penalty Fight, But Still A Way To Go Saturday, Dec 22 2007 

By Peter Steinfels, New York Times, 22 Dec 2007

Mario Marazziti’s name appeared in this column on Dec. 23, 2000, almost exactly seven years ago. An Italian journalist and spokesman for the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Roman Catholic movement of lay people known for its efforts on behalf of the poor and peacemaking, he had been bustling around holiday-happy Manhattan.

He was not sightseeing or shopping for gifts, but advocating a United Nations resolution against the death penalty.

This past week, Mr. Marazziti, now 55, was back in town to finish the job. On Tuesday, the General Assembly passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty. The resolution was nonbinding. Mr. Marazziti called it a milestone, nonetheless.

It sets “a new moral standard of justice,” he said at a small gathering after the vote, making it harder for nations to ignore. It stamps the death penalty as a matter of legitimate concern for the international community, he added; it calls for the secretary general to monitor and report on the extent of executions. And, he argued, it makes it easier for countries that are “de facto abolitionist” — which he defined as ones where no one had been executed in at least a decade — to chisel their practice into law.

Tuesday’s General Assembly vote was 104 nations in favor, 54 against and 29 abstaining. Among the opposed, the United States found itself lined up with Iran, Syria, Sudan, China and North Korea. All European Union nations, almost all Latin American states and United States allies like Turkey and Israel supported the resolution.

But the real vote had taken place a month earlier when the resolution was fiercely debated by the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee, often simply called the Third Committee, composed of all 192 member states of the United Nations.

Opposition to the resolution had long been led by Singapore, Egypt and a few Caribbean nations like Barbados. They maintained that the death penalty was strictly an internal affair of criminal law and that the pressure to abolish it reflected a European-based form of neo-colonialism.

An anti-capital-punishment resolution introduced by Italy was defeated in 1994. In 1999, faced with similar opposition, the European Union withdrew another such resolution.

Islamic nations were also influenced by the argument that the death penalty was an intrinsic part of Islamic law and could not be renounced in principle, however flexibly it might be applied in practice.

Working with other groups opposed to the death penalty like Amnesty International, the Sant’Egidio Community set out to counter Islamic reservations by urging a moratorium rather than outright abolition, thus setting aside the question of principle. By such intermediate steps, after all, Judaism long ago and Christianity more recently had moved away from biblical affirmations of the death penalty.

To counter the accusation of European neo-colonialism, Sant’Egidio led a campaign to gather signatures from all around the world on a petition for a moratorium. Seven years ago, Mr. Marazziti delivered more than three million of those signatures to the United Nations. This November, he delivered the petition anew, now carrying five million signatures from 153 countries.

Nations opposed to the resolution still tried to block it in November with crippling amendments. Egypt mobilized the support of primarily Muslim countries, for example, with a last-minute amendment extending the resolution “to protect the lives of unborn children.”

Led by the Philippines, a number of countries, including many Latin American ones that ban abortions, replied that they would sponsor a resolution on that topic but that raising it now was only a distraction from the issue at hand.

The Vatican’s representative at the United Nations expressed regret that when the notion of a right to life was not applied consistently from the beginning to the end of life, the result was political maneuvering.

Egypt’s amendments were defeated, and the Vatican welcomed the moratorium resolution, both in November and this week, after it was passed by the General Assembly.

On Tuesday, Mr. Marazziti repeatedly spoke of the General Assembly’s action as strengthening the “culture of life,” a phrase that Pope John Paul II had popularized in connection with opposition to abortion.

Asked whether he connected ending the death penalty with ending abortion, Mr. Marazziti replied that he and Sant’Egidio believed that “life should be defended from the very beginning to the end.” But abolishing the death penalty, for which there were plenty of nonreligious arguments, he said, would be an important step toward a “general culture of life as a new proposal for our time.”

He recognized how far the world remained from such a culture. Not only was the United Nations resolution not binding, but the support of many countries stemmed from winning over the political elite, rather the public at large.

The Sant’Egidio Community itself won over many officials in Africa. Of the approximately 50,000 members that the movement claims, one third are African; and a major program to deal with AIDS in 10 African countries has increased Sant’Egidio’s moral standing on the continent.

“We cannot promise money or use power,” Mr. Marazziti said. So success rested on personal relationships and patient pleading, and he was not embarrassed by the focus on the political elites. “A leading class must sometimes take the responsibility of being a leading class,” he said. But he knew that the task of changing public opinion remained.

Seven years ago, Mr. Marazziti was quick to admit that there were bigger problems in the world than the death penalty. On Tuesday, what with wars, terrorism and climate change, it was hard to argue that things had changed for the better. But what about for him personally?

His response was instantaneous. He grinned, whipped out his cellphone and clicked on the picture of his 17-month-old grandson. Culture of life, indeed!

Beginning Of The End For The “State Killer” Thursday, Dec 20 2007 

By Philip Rouwenhorst

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 18 (IPS) – It was another victorious day for the global anti-death penalty movement on Tuesday. Following the lead of the U.N.’s Third Committee in November, the U.N. General Assembly as a whole adopted a non-binding resolution supporting a moratorium on capital punishment.

One hundred and four countries voted in favour of the draft resolution, 54 states voted against and 29 abstained.

Yvonne Terlingen, Amnesty International’s representative at the United Nations, described the vote as a “historic step”.

“The result was expected, because the Third Committee had already voted overwhelmingly in favour. Countries rarely change their vote between the plenary and the Third Committee, but the result was better than we had in the Third Committee,” she told IPS.

In a statement, Sergio D’Elia, general secretary of Hands Off Cain, a group opposing death penalty, said, “After 15 years of campaigning, the approval of the moratorium on death penalty by the U.N. General Assembly represents an historical achievement and, we believe, the beginning of the end for the ‘state killer’.”

“With this resolution, the United Nations, for the first time, declares that the death penalty is a human rights issue and its phasing out represents serious progress for the world in this field,” he said.

Before General Assembly president Srgjan Kerim called upon U.N. member-states to vote, representatives from Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Nigeria and Singapore took the floor to express their opposition.

On behalf of 13 Caribbean states, the representative of Antigua and Barbuda said “given the reality of the situation in the Caribbean, the countries associated with this statement are forced to question the intended argument of the co-authors of the resolution.”

“Caribbean opponents of the resolution have not contravened any laws, international or domestic, by maintaining the death penalty in their domestic laws,” she said.

The representative of Barbados argued that any attempt by a country or a group of countries to impose its values on other U.N. member states would be an infringement of national sovereignty.

Singapore, which has been outspoken in support of the right to retain capital punishment, agreed that “for many delegations this is a criminal justice issue, and not purely a human rights issue, as the European Union and its allies assert. This resolution will make no difference to Singapore’s policies. We will continue to implement policies that work for us and best serve the interest of our people.”

Still, Terlingen stressed that “there is a worldwide trend towards abolishing the death penalty. Even if the debate doesn’t reach them today, it will reach them tomorrow. You see it for example in Africa, where there is a split in votes. There are, for instance, Islamic countries in the north of Africa which have voted in favour of the resolution.”

“It means that also in that bloc of countries there is a trend and that it’s going to be debated. This will stimulate the debate, because next year you have the same thing that is going to happen. It’s an annual resolution,” she said.

According to figures from Amnesty International, 133 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Last year, just 25 countries carried out executions, of which 91 percent took place in China, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan and the United States.

Compared to 2,148 executions in 2005 worldwide, statistics show a decrease in implementation of the death penalty, with 1,591 recorded executions in 2006.

“This [result of the voting] is being reported back in to the countries and next year the secretary-general will have to report to the General Assembly on how all countries have implemented the resolution. Countries themselves will have to come up with an answer as to what they have done or why they have decided not to do something,” Terlingen said.

In a statement from Algiers, where he is visiting the site of a bomb attack last week that killed 41 people, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “particularly encouraged by the support expressed for this initiative from many diverse regions of the world.”

“This is further evidence of a trend towards ultimately abolishing the death penalty,” he said.

Asked what the real world impact of the resolution would be, Terlingen responded, “I think it will be gradual.”

“Don’t expect an immediate change as a result of this resolution, but I think that over years to come you will see the death penalty change. This only happened because there is a trend towards abolition. It will accelerate the trend you have worldwide.”

Party Drugs A Hit With Wealthy In Singapore Monday, Dec 10 2007 

By Melanie Lee

SINGAPORE, Dec 10 (Reuters) – It is Friday night. Ling, a bank analyst in Armani heels, pops a small, blue pill into her mouth and dances to the thumping beat. Later she heads to a house party with her friends where they snort cocaine off tabletops.

Singapore’s party drug scene used to be the domain of high-flying foreign bankers and other expatriates who would take ecstasy and snort cocaine in defiance of the city state’s drug laws which, with a mandatory death sentence for drug trafficking, are among the toughest in the world. But these days, the drug scene for foreigners is not as pronounced as among well-to-do locals in a country which has the world’s fastest-growing number of high net worth individuals, totalling some 67,000 in 2006.

And fast cars and fancy clothes are not the only things young, hip and rich Singaporeans want to buy.

“In general, you go for ‘trippy’ drugs, drugs that make you feel good as well as make you dance harder,” said a student from a wealthy family, who declined to be identified.

With one gram of methamphetamine costing S$300, it is an expensive habit that not everyone can feed.

Singaporean authorities say drug use is low, but anecdotal evidence tells of the emergence of an underground party drug scene mostly at night clubs frequented by the wealthy.

Singapore is Asia’s second-richest country, with a 2006 GDP per capita of $29,000, on a par with Italy and Spain. The booming economy, driven by manufacturing and financial services, has made the city-state a playground for the rich.

And with money to throw around, some of these rich Singaporeans are spending it on drugs smuggled from neighbouring Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

They are taking a big risk.

In Singapore, anyone caught carrying more than 15 grams of heroin, 30 grams of cocaine, 500 grams of cannabis or 250 grams of methamphetamines faces a mandatory death sentence by hanging.

Penalties for consumption are also strict, including up to 10 years in jail, a S$20,000 fine, or both.

“There are definitely a lot of people doing drugs in the party scene, but it doesn’t get reported because there’s no way to really catch them since the circle is closed,” said bank analyst Ling, who would only give her first name.

Drugs and Gangs

With its borders closely monitored by vigilant authorities, it is not clear how drugs enter Singapore. But former gang members say some drugs are brought in on row boats from nearby Indonesian islands, or are smuggled along the causeway separating Singapore from Malaysia.

“Don’t think it’s elaborate trucks with hidden compartments – sometimes the drugs are just in a motorcycle front basket and driven through,” said Jonathan, who spent 7 years as a gang member before entering a drug rehabilitation program.

According to Singapore’s Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) figures, 1,127 drug users were arrested in 2006 compared to 793 in 2005. Forty-nine percent of those arrested took drugs such as ecstasy, ketamine and Nimetazepam.

In 2004, the CNB carried out a raid which exposed a glitzy underground drug scene. The cocaine drug bust saw 23 people arrested, including the former editor of high-society magazine Singapore Tatler, an award-winning French chef and an oil broker.

Three of those arrested jumped bail and left the country. They are still wanted by the Singapore police and Interpol. Nigel Simmonds, the editor of Singapore Tatler, was jailed for two years.

“Every couple of years, they (the police) go out and get people so everyone is way too scared to do drugs,” said a British lawyer, who declined to be named. “The drugs of choice here (for foreigners) really are women and alcohol.”

The city-state, which executed two Africans and an Australian in recent years, has faced pressure from rights groups and governments to end its mandatory death penalty for drug smuggling.

Singapore defends its position by saying it needs tough laws to deter drug traffickers. But some believe the death penalty is ineffective as a deterrence against drug smuggling.

“When you hang a drug courier, you are only killing the small fry. The kingpins are the ones you don’t see,” said Sinapan Samydorai of rights group Think Centre.

According to Amnesty International, about 400 people have been sentenced to death in Singapore since 1991, most of them for drug trafficking. This gives Singapore the highest execution rate per capita in the world, the human-rights group said.

But tough laws are still not enough to stop some drug users. “It’s the same as having unprotected sex. You do it because it feels better. But if you get caught it’s the worst high ever,” said the wealthy student who declined to be named.

(Additional reporting by Annika Breidthardt; editing by Neil Chatterjee and Megan Goldin)

Singapore’s Strong Pro-Death Penalty Stand At U.N. Leaves Many Angered Monday, Dec 3 2007 

By Baradan Kuppusamy

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 3 (IPS) – Singapore’s strong pro-death penalty stand during the November U.N. General Assembly vote on a draft resolution calling for an end to the death penalty has disappointed many and left Singaporeans asking why the city-state is willing to risk international condemnation to pursue the death penalty so publicly as a solution to crime.

“Why is Singapore so ham-fisted in wanting the death penalty when the majority of nations are against it?” asked a senior Singaporean lawyer who declined to be named because his legal business might be penalised.

“We should go with the trend in the world which is to abolish — or at least place a moratorium on — state-sanctioned killing,” he said by telephone from Kuala Lumpur.

“If we can be the first one to commercially fly the Airbus 380, why are we among the last in the world to defend and insist on carrying out state killings?” he said. “After all we pride ourselves as world trend-setters.”

Singapore was one of the few countries that fiercely opposed the moratorium when the vote was taken on Nov 15 with 99 in favour, 52 against and 33 abstentions.

The U.S. and China joined many developing countries, notably from the Islamic world, in voting ‘no’ after an acrimonious debate.

The full 192-member General Assembly is widely expected to endorse the decision, possibly before Christmas, according to diplomats.

Opponents of the moratorium decried what they saw as an attempt by the resolution’s 87 co-sponsors to impose their values on the rest of the world.

They argued that the death penalty was fundamentally a “criminal justice issue” to be decided by national authorities. They saw the resolution as blatant interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states.

Among the other vocal nations wanting the death penalty were Malaysia, Egypt, and Barbados. The resolution calls for countries which still have the death penalty to introduce a moratorium on executions, with a view to abolishing capital punishment.

Singapore’s U.N. envoy Vanu Menon saw the issue during debate as cosponsors “trying to impose a particular set of beliefs on everyone else”.

Singapore’s strong stand on the death penalty, which is liberally employed in the city-state for murder, drug trafficking and other offences, provoked immediate anger from many long-time Singaporean anti-death penalty activists.

Comments posted on Singaporean blogs and websites immediately afterwards were highly critical describing Singapore, where the press is tightly controlled and open debate rare, as a “busy little bee” defending the death penalty.

“We are all upset that Singapore led the opposition – but are not really surprised,” said Singaporean Sinapan Samydorai, who manages the Think Centre, a Singaporean NGO that champions human rights and an end to capital punishment.

“With over 400 executions since 1991, Singapore taking the lead in the U.N. vote does not really come as a shock,” he told IPS in a telephone interview from Bangkok.

In all, 130 countries have banned the death penalty, and only 25 nations carried out executions last year. “Singapore is a leader in the 25 nation pack,” Samydorai said.

Although U.N. General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, a vote calling for a suspension of the death penalty, backed by a majority of countries, would be a significant statement of changing international opinion.

On average, Singapore sentences between 10 to 20 people to death a year, mostly for drug trafficking, Samydorai said, even though numerous studies proved that the death sentence had little effect on drug trafficking.

“It remains an uphill task in Singapore to abolish the death sentence,” he said, adding there were several reasons influencing Singapore to defend the use of the death penalty in its criminal justice system.

Being 76 percent Chinese, Singapore was heavily influence by the traditional Chinese view which held that harsh punishment deterred crime, restored normalcy and maintained “Confucian peace and harmony”.

“An inherited value system that sees hard, heavy punishment as a solution is at the core of Singapore’s resistance to abolishing the death penalty or even agreeing to a moratorium on executions,” he said.

Singapore also saw the moratorium issue as impinging on its sovereign right as a nation.

Perhaps another reason was that Singapore saw the death penalty as a method of keeping itself “squeaky clean”, free of crime, drugs and “undesirable elements”, he said.

“It is a kind of defensive barrier, an artificial wall to “protect” Singapore,” said Samydorai. “The tragedy is, it is inhuman and it does not work.”

Activists say Singapore as an international city surviving on world trade and financial services should adopt more progressive policies than state killings.

“It must recognise the right to life as contained in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which recognises the inherent right of every person to life,” Samydorai said.

“It cannot any longer justify a criminal justice system that uses the death penalty based on retribution,” he said.

{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

It Is Our Sovereign Right To Hang People Sunday, Nov 18 2007 

Moratorium Vote Leaves Deep Divisions by Anuradha Kher

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 16 (IPS) – It was a victorious day for the anti-death penalty movement on Thursday, as the Third Committee of the U.N. General Assembly passed a symbolic resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on capital punishment.

Ninety-nine countries voted in favour of the resolution, 52 voted against and there were 33 abstentions. Eight countries were altogether absent from the meeting — the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Kiribati, Peru, Senegal, Seychelles, Somalia and Tunisia.

The United States, Singapore and China joined many developing countries, notably from the Islamic world, in voting against the resolution, while abstainers included Bhutan, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo and Cuba.

Months of meetings, campaigns and conferences intended to push the moratorium at the U.N. General Assembly culminated in this week’s vote, where conflicting views on the legality and effectiveness of capital punishment made for a tense atmosphere.

“The issue arouses a lot of strong feelings and that’s what we saw among delegates at the meeting,” Yvonne Terlingen, the Amnesty International’s representative at the United Nations, told IPS.

The draft resolution, which was co-sponsored by the European Union bloc and 60 other countries, still needs to be submitted to the 192-member General Assembly for a vote. If approved, it would be non-binding, but would carry moral weight. Diplomats said that the GA was widely expected to endorse the decision, possibly next month.

“We are happy with the substantive majority of countries who voted for the resolution. It was more than what we had expected,” Terlingen said. “We believe this will encourage many more countries to abolish capital punishment or at least review their laws regarding it.”

Eventually, that is what the anti-death penalty movement hopes for. One of the sponsors of the resolution and a major anti-death penalty advocate, the European Union, echoed this sentiment.

“This is a good day for human rights and the European goal of achieving the abolition of the death penalty all over the world. Based on this broad coalition, we will continue our efforts to reach this objective in the interest of humanity,” said the EU commissioner for external relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

In an emotional statement after the resolution was passed, Italy’s Ambassador to the U.N., Marcello Spatafora said, “I strongly hope that, in approving this resolution, we will be starting a process in which we will be all working together, we will be all walking together along the same path, with equal dignity, with full mutual respect.”

But the vote tally that Terlingen and others on the anti-death penalty side view as a substantive majority and broad coalition, Singapore and others interpret as signaling no clear consensus on the matter.

“The vote on the resolution made clear that there is no international consensus on the death penalty. Almost half the membership of the U.N. did not vote in favour of the resolution. Many delegations were obviously uncomfortable with it. This is a criminal justice, not a human rights issue,” Vanu Gopala Menon, Singapore’s ambassador to the United Nations, told IPS.

He said that the main sponsors have only succeeded in exacerbating the divisions and polarising the membership by trying to impose their views on the rest of the world.

“Singapore will not change its criminal justice system in response to this vote. It is our sovereign right to decide based on our own criminal justice system,” he added.

Over the two days of debate, countries opposed to the resolution, including Barbados and Syria, argued that it smacked of moral righteousness on the part of proponents and that it touched on issues of national sovereignty.

But Terlingen said that “the resolution was being backed not only by the EU but also by a large number of countries in Africa, South America and many others from the South.”

In an effort to make their point of view heard, countries such as Singapore, the U.S., Egypt and Barbados proposed 14 written and four oral amendments to the resolution – including the right to life of unborn children – were introduced. In the months leading to the vote, anti-death penalty activists feared that these amendments would jeopardise the resolution, but to their surprise, all of them were defeated in debates preceding the vote.

For once, the United States and Iran were on the same side of an issue. “The U.S. recognises that the supporters of this resolution hold principled positions on the issue of the death penalty. Nonetheless, it is important to recognise that international law does not prohibit capital punishment,” Robert S. Hagen, deputy representative to the U.N. Economic and Social Council, said in his statement at the meeting.

He also said that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights specifically recognises the right of countries to impose the death penalty for the most serious crimes carried out with appropriate safeguards and observance of due process.

In the United States, there is currently a de facto moratorium on capital punishment as the country’s highest court reviews the legality of lethal injections as a method of execution.

According to Amnesty Intentional, more than 90 percent of executions last year took place in China, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan and the U.S. But it said that the number of recorded executions has decreased from 2,148 in 2005 to 1,591 the following year.

A growing number of countries are abolishing the death penalty – 133 countries have done so in practice or in law.

Two proposed death penalty moratoriums previously reached the floor of the general assembly: in 1994 and 1999. The former was defeated by eight votes and the latter withdrawn at the last minute.

U.N. Panel Votes In Favor Of Death Penalty Moratorium Friday, Nov 16 2007 

By Claudia Parsons

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 15 (Reuters) – A U.N. committee voted on Thursday in favor of a resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty in a key step toward the passing of the non-binding motion by the world body.

Opponents had tried to derail the resolution in the U.N. General Assembly’s human rights committee by inserting amendments on the right to life of unborn children.

More than 15 amendments were voted down in two days of acrimonious debate that touched on whether the death penalty was a human rights issue or a domestic matter. Some Caribbean and other countries accused the European Union, a key backer of the text, of seeking to impose its values on other nations.

The resolution, which calls for “a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty,” was passed 99-52 with 33 abstentions. It is likely to go to the full 192-member assembly in mid-December where supporters say they expect few countries to change their position.

“It’s a question of coherence – a country that votes in a certain way here will do so there,” Italian Ambassador Marcello Spatafora told Reuters shortly before the vote.

Eighty-seven countries – including the 27 EU states, more than a dozen Latin American countries and eight African states – jointly introduced the draft resolution, though opponents singled out the EU as the driving force.

Two similar moves in the 1990s failed in the assembly. This time, the text of the resolution stops short of an outright demand for immediate abolition.

Angry Opposition

Vanu Gopala Menon, ambassador of Singapore which has a mandatory death penalty for most drug offenses, accused those who brought the resolution to the committee of being “sanctimonious, hypocritical and intolerant.”

Barbados was among the most vocal in complaining that “a group of countries” was trying to impose its will, saying it had been threatened with the withdrawal of aid over the issue.

Human rights organization Amnesty International welcomed the vote as a “historic resolution and a major step towards the abolition of the death penalty worldwide.”

“Although the resolution is not legally binding on states, it carries considerable moral and political weight,” Amnesty International said in a statement.

China, Iran, Iraq, the United States, Pakistan and Sudan account for about 90 percent of all executions worldwide.

According to Amnesty, 133 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice – a statistic that opponents of the resolution contested. They said more than 100 countries retained capital punishment on their statutes, even if they did not all use it.

Botswana’s representative Rhee Hetanang said the death penalty was a domestic criminal justice issue. “No amount of intimidation and bullying will cause us to go against the expressed wish of the people of Botswana,” he said.

Egypt and Iran were among countries proposing a last-minute amendment that would have urged member states “to take all necessary measures to protect the lives of unborn children.”

The United States, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe were among the countries voting for that amendment. It was rejected 83-28 with 47 abstentions.

“We are in agreement with the view expressed in this amendment that the lives of the unborn deserve the strongest protection, and we agree that countries that advocate for the abolition of the death penalty should be at least equally scrupulous in showing concern for innocent life,” U.S. representative Joseph Rees said.

The United States abstained in a vote on a more strongly worded amendment that would have said abortion was only admissible in necessary cases, “in particular where the life of the mother and or the child is at serious risk.”

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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