Sunday, 8 July 2007

Asian activists condemn drug executions

An Asian network of anti-death penalty activists has condemned the region's widespread use of the death penalty for drug offences, despite there being "no convincing evidence" the punishment provides a greater level of deterrence.

The Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN) released a statement on United Nations Anti-Drugs Day, 26 June, expressing its "growing concern that more people are sentenced to death for drug offences than for any other crime in a number of Asia Pacific countries".

"This is at a time when there is a worldwide trend towards restricting and abolishing the death penalty."

Sixteen Asia Pacific countries continued to apply the death penalty for drug trafficking and possession offences, said ADPAN.

The network recognised that governments should take "appropriate law-enforcement measures" against drug trafficking and crime, including meeting their obligations under international drug control treaties.

"However there is no convincing evidence that the death penalty deters would-be drug traffickers more than any other punishment," it said.

'Not deterring'
The statement said Amnesty International did not know of any evidence that the death penalty had lead to a drop in drug use or trafficking in any of the sixteen countries.

"In China for example, police data shows that the number of drug users grew 35 percent in the five years since 2000.

"In Viet Nam, the BBC quoted an official who said in 2005 the quantity of drugs seized by customs had increased 400 percent year-on-year, despite its use of the death penalty."

Secret, mandatory, guilty
It also condemned the secrecy, mandatory sentences and discrimination that exacerbate the use of the death penalty for drugs.

It was not possible to determine how many death senences were imposed for drug crimes in the region because "the death penalty is shrouded in secrecy in many Asian countries".

"However, reports have shown that in South East Asian countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, the majority of death penalty cases are for drug crimes."

ADPAN said the death penalty was mandatory for certain drug offences in Brunei, India, Laos, Thailand, North Korea, Singapore and Malaysia, which gave judges "no authority to take into account extenuating circumstances" in individual cases.

The network was also particularly concerned that countries including Malaysia, China and Singapore made a presumption of guilt for drug offences, reversing the international legal standard that an accused person should first be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a fair trial.

This reversal was even more worrying in capital cases because it "increases the risk that an innocent person may be executed".

The statement said there was evidence that the death penalty was disproportionately used on "the poorest, most vulnerable members of society", including in drug trafficking cases.

"In many cases, people have become involved in drug trafficking out of desperation or ignorance.

"Executing these people not only fails to deter others, but also fails to deal with the underlying issues that drive them to offend, such as poverty and lack of education, and obviously precludes the possibility of reform."

Steps to abolition
The ADPAN statement urged countries in the Asia Pacific to follow the lead of the Philippines and Nepal and move towards abolition of the death penalty.

It said countries should start by "ending the use of the death penalty for drugs offences and studying and implementing alternative treatment to break the cycle of drug abuse and crime".

ADPAN said the sixteen Asia Pacific countries that still had the death penalty for drug crimes were: Bangladesh, Brunei, China, India, Indonesia, North Korea, South Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, and Viet Nam.

ADPAN described itself as "is an independent informal network with over 34 members made up of individuals and organizations from 18 countries mainly from the Asia-Pacific region".

Related stories:
New voice against Asia's executions -- 10 October, 2006

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