Saturday, 8 November 2008

ASEAN urged to promote abolition

An international human rights organisation has called on five Asian countries to use the mechanisms of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to encourage abolition of the death penalty.

Souhayr Belhassen, president of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) wrote to all ASEAN members in October arguing the regional organisation "has a role to play to promote the abolition of the death penalty in the region".

She said the abolition of the death penalty would serve ASEAN's stated aims, including to "accelerate... social progress in the region" and to "reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person".

The letter called on the five member states that had abolished the death penalty in practice -- Cambodia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Brunei Darussalam and Lao PDR -- to place the issue of the death penalty on the ASEAN agenda.

It urged these countries "to use the various mechanisms and forums of ASEAN to establish a dialogue on the death sentence with those member States who continue executions, in the interest of fulfilling the ASEAN declaration of principles integrated in the preamble of the ASEAN Charter".

Belhassen expressed FIDH's "deep concern" that five member states still carried out executions, namely Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam.

She also highlighted the difficulty compiling statistics about the death penalty in the region, since a number of ASEAN member states kept this information a state secret, and the wide range of offences for which is was applied, including non-violent crimes.

"FIDH expresses deep concern with the number of offenses punishable by death in certain member States. In the Socialist Republic of Vietnam for example, 29 crimes carry a death sentence, some of which include drug trafficking, theft, and various economic crimes," she wrote.

"FIDH calls on the Heads of State and Governments of ASEAN to ensure that the abolition of the death penalty is made a priority for ASEAN, particularly within the 'ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community'.

"ASEAN should work to ensure that secrecy surrounding death sentences in these countries is lifted in accordance with the 2006 report of Phillip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, which stated that 'those countries who maintain executions have a clear obligation to disclose the details of their application of the penalty'."

The member states of ASEAN are: Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei Darussalam, Viet Nam, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Cambodia.

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