Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Drugs and death: Major new study released

IHRA launches 'The Death Penalty for Drug Offences: Global Overview 2010' report
17 May 2010

The International Harm Reduction Association released a study on the death penalty for drug offences today on the opening day of the 19th session of the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, taking place in Vienna. The report, titled ‘The Death Penalty for Drug Offences: Global Overview 2010’, finds that hundreds of people are executed for drug offences each year around the world, a figure that very likely exceeds one thousand when taking into account those countries that keep their death penalty statistics secret.

The report is the first detailed country by country overview of the death penalty for drugs, monitoring both national legislation and state practice of enforcement. Of the states worldwide that retain the death penalty, 32 jurisdictions maintain laws that prescribe the death penalty for drug offences. The study also found that in some states, drug offenders make up a significant portion – if not the outright majority – of those sentenced to death and/or executed each year.

Direct link to the report. (Please note 2.42MB file.)

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Singapore: Appeal against hanging of Yong Vui Kong

Amnesty International has issued the following Urgent Action appeal, calling for people to write to the Singapore government urging it not to execute Malaysian man Yong Vui Kong. Details of the latest appeal are above, with background on his case below.

14 May 2010

A Malaysian man is at immediate risk of execution in Singapore. On 14 May, the Court of Appeal dismissed his appeal against a mandatory death sentence, which violates fair-trial rights.

Yong Vui Kong was sentenced to death in January 2009 for trafficking 47 grams of diamorphine (heroin), a crime committed when he was 19 years old.

Singapore's Misuse of Drugs Act makes the death penalty mandatory for trafficking more than 30 grams of heroin, leaving judges no discretion to consider issues such as mitigating circumstances or to hand down alternative sentences. The law presumes trafficking in all cases involving the possession of over 2 grams of heroin, which shifts the burden of proving that no trafficking was involved from the prosecution to the defendant. This violates the core human right to be presumed innocent of a crime until proven guilty.

The President of Singapore rejected Yong Vui Kong's petition for clemency on 1 December 2009. On 2 December 2009, the High Court postponed Yong Vui Kong’s execution (which had been set to take place on 4 December) to allow the Court of Appeal time to hear an application for a stay.

PLEASE WRITE IMMEDIATELY in English or your own language:
- Urging President Nathan to reconsider Yong Vui Kong's clemency petition and commute his death sentence;
- Calling on the president to introduce an immediate moratorium on all executions, with a view to complete abolition of the death penalty;
- Reminding Law Minister Shanmugam, that the Misuse of Drugs Act violates international human rights law and standards concerning fairness of prosecutions and trials;
- Urging the Law Minister to recommend that Parliament revoke the mandatory death penalty for drug-trafficking and all other offences.


His Excellency SR Nathan
Office of the President
Orchard Road, Istana
Singapore 0922
Fax: +65 6735 3135
Email: s_r_nathan@istana.gov.sg
Salutation: Your Excellency

Minister for Law
The Honourable K Shanmugam
Ministry of Home Affairs
New Phoenix Park
28 Irrawaddy Road
Singapore 329560
Fax: +65 6258 0921
Email: k_shanmugam@mlaw.gov.sg
Salutation: Dear Mr Minister

And copies to:
The Straits Times
1000 Toa Payoh North
News Centre
Singapore 318994
Fax: +65 6319 8282
Email: stonline@sph.com.sg

Also please send copies to Singapore's diplomatic representatives in your country.

This is the third update of UA 296/09. Further information:

Background - from Amnesty International Urgent Action appeal 269/09, 3 November 2009
Index: ASA 36/004/2009 Singapore

malaysian man facing execution in singapore
Yong Vui Kong was sentenced to death for drug trafficking in January 2009. He had exhausted his appeals by October, and can now escape execution only if the president grants clemency.

Yong Vui Kong was arrested in June 2007, when he was 19, by officers from the Central Narcotics Bureau. He was charged with trafficking 42.27 grams of heroin, and then sentenced to death in January 2009.

He had been working as a messenger for a man in Malaysia who often asked him to collect money from debtors or deliver packages as "gifts" to people in Singapore and Malaysia. At his trial, Yong Vui Kong said he had not known what was in the packages, and when he asked, he had simply been told not to open them. The judge, however, ruled that Yong must have been aware of their contents, saying in his written summation, "I found that the accused had failed to rebut the presumption against him. I am of the view that the prosecution had proved its case against the accused beyond reasonable doubt, and I therefore found the accused guilty as charged and sentenced him to suffer death."

Yong was convicted under the Misuse of Drugs Act, which provides that anyone found guilty of illegally importing, exporting or trafficking more than 15 grams of heroin will automatically receive a mandatory death sentence.

Governments need to address crimes, including drug trafficking, but there is no clear evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other forms of punishment. The UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions stated in his 2005 report that the "mandatory death penalty, which precludes the possibility of a lesser sentence being imposed regardless of the circumstances, is inconsistent with the prohibition of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." To date, 139 countries have abolished death penalty in law or practice.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Taiwan: Asian human rights criticism

TAIWAN: ADPAN Appeals for Taiwan to continue to Take a Lead
Statement by ADPAN

The Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN) joins others around the world in regretting that the Presidential Office of Taiwan accepted the resignation of former Minister of Justice Wang Ching-feng on 11 March amid political pressure against the moratorium of the death penalty. ADPAN urges the Taiwanese government to maintain the moratorium and to take a lead towards abolition among Asian countries.

In 2001, the Taiwanese Government announced a policy to gradually abolish the death penalty. The number of executions every year since then had been on the decline. In 2006, mandatory death sentences were eliminated, and no executions have been carried out since the same year. This is in keeping with the global trend toward abolition evident in UN General Assembly resolutions in 2007 and 2008 calling for a global moratorium on executions as a first step toward abolition.

On 14 March, President Ma Ying-jeou pointed out that the general public of Taiwan needs to engage in open discussion on the death penalty and that Taiwan cannot afford to ignore this international trend toward abolition.

ADPAN appeals to the Taiwanese government to do everything within its power to continue its efforts toward abolition, and that any future Minister of Justice shall take all necessary measures to lead Taiwan towards abolition, including ensuring the life of all 44 prisoners currently on death row.

More than two-thirds of the countries of the world have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice. World opinion and practice is shifting inexorably towards abolition.

Representing a regional voice for abolition, ADPAN welcomes the steps taken thus far by the Taiwanese government towards abolition, but urges the Taiwan government to ensure that it does not fall behind other countries in the region that have abolished or are restricting the use of the death penalty: Mongolia’s president announced an official moratorium in January, South Korea has not executed anyone for over 12 years, the Philippines and the Cook Islands respectively abolished the death penalty in 2006 and 2007.

ADPAN is a cross-regional network made up of over 40 members including lawyers, NGOs and human rights activists from 22 countries mainly from Asia and the Pacific.

Taiwan: International condemnation for hangings

Taiwan carries out first executions in five years
Statement by Amnesty International, 4 May 2010

Amnesty International has condemned the execution of four prisoners by the Taiwanese authorities, the first since December 2005.

Chang Chun-hung, Hung Chen-yao, Ko Shih-ming and Chang Wen-wei were executed in prisons in Taipei, Tainan and Taichun on the evening of 30 April.

The executions come just two weeks after new Minister of Justice Tseng Yung-fu was reported as saying that his ultimate goal is the abolition of the death penalty.

"These executions cast a dark shadow on the country's human rights record, and blatantly contradict the Justice Minister's previously declared intention to abolish the death penalty," said Catherine Baber, deputy director of Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific programme.

The resignation of Wang Ching-feng as Minister of Justice last March sparked international attention over the issue of the death penalty in Taiwan. Wang Ching-feng had refused to sign execution orders because of her opposition to the death penalty.

"The world was looking to the Taiwanese authorities to choose human rights, and to show leadership on the path towards abolishing the death penalty in the Asia-Pacific. Today's executions extinguished that hope," said Catherine Baber.

The Taiwanese Alliance to End the Death Penalty has raised concerns over the legality of the executions.

The Taiwanese authorities stated today that they are still considering alternatives to the death penalty, but such commitments are of little value while executions continue.

139 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Amnesty International calls upon the Taiwanese authorities to immediately establish a moratorium on executions and take all the necessary steps to abolish the death penalty in the country.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases, as a violation of the right to life and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

Amnesty International believes that the death penalty legitimizes an irreversible act of violence by the state.

Research demonstrates that the death penalty is often applied in a discriminatory manner, being used disproportionately against the poor, minorities and members of racial, ethnic and religious communities. The death penalty is often imposed after a grossly unfair trial.

But even when trials respect international standards of fairness, the risk of executing the innocent can never be fully eliminated – the death penalty will inevitably claim innocent victims, as has been persistently demonstrated.

Scientific studies have consistently failed to find convincing evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other punishments.

Two resolutions, calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty, were adopted at the United Nations General Assembly in December 2007 and 2008 by an overwhelming majority of states.

Taiwan: Human rights protest over executions

Protest Against The Ministry of Justice’s Illegal Executions
Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (TAEDP) Press Release May, 1st, 2010

Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (TAEDP), Judicial Reform Foundation (JRF), Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR), Amnesty International Taiwan (AI Taiwan), Taiwan Labor Front, Human Rights Committee of the Taipei Bar Association, Regional Tibetan Youth Congress Taiwan, Taiwan Green Party and Humanistic Education Foundation together handed a letter of protest to the Ministry of Justice on May, 1st to remonstrate with the Minister of Justice, Tseng Yung- Fu, about the cursory order to execute four death row prisoners. Amnesty International (AI) published a news release to denounce the Taiwanese government for resuming executions and stated that this move has seriously damaged Taiwan’s human rights record.

The Minster of Justice, Tseng Yung-Fu, signed the orders for the executions, killing the four death row inmates, Chang Chun-Hong, Chang Wen-Wei, Hong Chen Yeow, and Ke Shi-Ming, in the space of just over an hour on April 30th. Their families weren’t informed and they were not able to meet the four men for the last time before they died.

We are shocked and enraged at these so-called "executions according to law". Below are our responses to the reasons for the executions given by the Ministry of Justice:

Illegal Execution of Chang Chun-Hong
On behalf of the 44 death row inmates, TAEDP asked 7 lawyers to demand a constitutional interpretation from the Grand Justices of the Judicial Yuan. But due to time constraints, legal letters of authorization were not obtained in time from Chang Chun-Hong, Chang Wen-Wei, Hong Chen Yeow, and Ke Shi-Ming. Nevertheless, concerning the procedural items, the Department of Clerks for the Justices of the Constitutional Court sent letters to the 7 lawyers to asking them to provide these document within ten days (up to May 3rd, 2010). Besides, at the same time, it also tried to reach the four death row inmates in different prisons to learn their wills regarding the constitutional interpretation.

TAEDP contacted the four death row inmates after receiving the letter. Chang Chun-Hong then sent the letter of authorization with his signature on April 26th. He showed his willingness to appoint TAEDP’s lawyers to demand a constitutional interpretation. Therefore, Chang’s demand was without question totally legal.

In accordance with the Ministry of Justice’s "Implementation Guidelines of The Review of Death Penalty Cases," the first rule of the first item of the second article states that, for cases pending constitutional interpretation, the highest court cannot send the orders of executions to the Minister of Justice. It is a shame that the Minister, however, ignored the demand, signing the orders for the executions illegally and said that they acted in accordance with the law.

Unknown Will of Ke
While Chang Wen-Wei and Hong Chen Yeow directly refused to approve the demand for constitutional interpretations, the fourth death row inmates Ke Shi-Ming didn’t actually reply. TAEDP sent representatives to the Tainan prison to meet Ke in person, but the staff replied that Ke was banned from meeting anyone. They could not tell the representatives of TAEDP if Ke received TAEDP’s letter and if he was able to write letters freely. Thus, we had no idea whether Ke refused to approve the demand for constitutional interpretations.

No Fair Trial
Three of the death row inmates executed didn’t have any defense lawyers when they receiving the final rulings upholding the death penalty from the highest court. According to the International Covenant of the Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) ratified by President Ma, any death row inmates should have defense lawyers in any stage of the trial as legitimate legal procedures. However, Article 388 of the Criminal Procedure Law in Taiwan violates the ICCPR. Given the opportunity, the Grand Justices might have a chance to uphold this basic right recognized by the international society and might rule the death penalty unconstitutional. The Minster of Justice Tseng, nonetheless, intentionally and recklessly ignored this and acted before the decisions of the Grand Justices. The Ministry of Justice exceeded its powers over the mandates of the Judicial Yuan, claiming its action was "in accordance with the law," treating human life as if it were worthless. It proves that the Ministry of Justice’s promises to be cautious regarding execution were nothing but lies. Therefore, the Minister of Justice needs to shoulder the political responsibility.

Blindness to the ICCPR
On March, 29th, TAEDP also helped the 44 death row inmates demand pardons (the commutation of the penalty) from the President. President Ma didn’t refuse and stated that he had received the demand and asked the Ministry of Justice for further discussions. Nothing about this was mentioned in the press release of the Ministry of Justice. It could be seen as blindness to the ICCPR and overstepping its authority. If the government really wants to "administer in accordance with the law," it should make it clear how they processed the demand for commutation of the death penalty.

The Indignation of Men and Gods?
The Minister of Justice claimed that he would exercise his power carefully. Beside the original procedures, Tseng said another consultative group would be formed for circumspect consideration of the cases "arousing the indignation of men and gods." But now the only standard we can see is "the right to seal and authorize." After the handling of the letter of authorization in this case, the Minister of Justice should announce the names of the members of this consultative group and related information for public scrutiny.

The TAEDP feels deeply distressed that the 4 year and half moratorium on the death penalty was destroyed in one day and firmly appeals to the general public to rethink the death penalty. While there is still controversy over the death penalty, without careful procedures, the Ministry of Justice speeded up the executions instead of reexamining related laws and rules. It is again another manifestation of how the government signed the ICCPR with one hand and broke it with the other.

In the press release of the Ministry of Justice, it was said that "as for the 40 people demanding constitutional interpretations, the Ministry of Justice would see how it develops and act in accordance with the law." Consequently, we request the passage of legislation concerning commutation and an immediate stop to executions.