The death penalty is an archaic form of punishment and more importantly, there is no clear evidence to say that the death penalty deters crime. As humanity moves into new standards of compassion and morality, the idea that one man has the power to judge the actions of another man and send him to die is increasingly irrelevant.
As NUS Law Dean Simon Chesterman wrote in The Straits Times on 24 May, Singapore can no longer continue to tinker with the machinery of death. Tides are changing in the United States, wrote Chesterman, as more judges are speaking out against the death penalty. For example, a retired Justice John Paul Stevens who had previously sent offenders to the gallows, published a book proposing six amendments to the US Constitution. One was aimed at outlawing the death penalty.
So, it is completely regressive in terms of human rights, and another step away from an enlightened society when Law Minister K Shanmugam recently said that he is in favour of imposing the death penalty on criminals who sexually assault women or abuse children, and the victim dies.
"My thinking is that there should be a default death sentence for those who rape or sexually assault women, resulting in the victim's death, and for those who hurt a child and the child ends up dead. The accused in such cases should face the death penalty, unless he can prove why there shouldn't be such a penalty", said the Law Minister.
Instead, NUS Law Dean Chesterman correctly pointed out that in the three years since Singapore ceased executions there has been no appreciable increase in crime. In fact, statistics released in February showed crime at a 30-year low.
Yes, although Singapore is the only other industrialised country to retain the death penalty, it has now been more than three years since an execution was actually carried out. This is because the government has been undertaking a comprehensive review of the death penalty as it has been criticised for being a mandatory sentence that give judges no room for manouvering.
When changes were made to the death penalty, all 34 people on death row had their cases reviewed and several have since had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.
The changes to the mandatory death penalty showed that Singapore was moving in the right direction in terms of the way it administers the death sentence, or perhaps even considering an eventual abolishment.
However, the recent remarks made by the Law Minister only goes to show that changes made are not genuine efforts to respect universal human rights, but merely afterthoughts to placate mounting local and international criticisms of the death penalty.
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