Death penalty needed in anti-drug fight: Shanmugam

Death penalty needed in anti-drug fight: Shanmugam

Singapore's Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs K. Shanmugam has spoken out against a call by United Nations officials for countries to abolish the death penalty.

In his speech in New York City on Thursday, Mr Shanmugam urged a more careful assessment of the facts and situations in different countries that lead to the use of capital punishment.

"No civilised society can glorify the taking of life. The question is whether, in very limited circumstances, it is legitimate to have the death penalty so that the larger interest of society is served," he said at a meeting on the sidelines of the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly.

In his opening remarks, UN deputy secretary-general Jan Eliasson called on world leaders to do away with capital punishment in their countries, saying it was "incompatible with life in the 21st century". He also asked states to ratify a protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, created in 1989, which seeks to abolish the death penalty worldwide.

Mr Shanmugam later responded that "the approach of a sweeping statement that can apply to all is counterproductive".

Setting out Singapore's position, he said the death penalty is necessary to fight the drug scourge in an island state located near major drug trafficking centres.

As a wealthy city-state with many young people and a major logistics hub from which drugs can be distributed to the rest of the world, it would be a "natural front for drugs to come in on a large scale".

Yet, the country is one of the few in the world which has successfully fought the drug menace, he said.

"For those who ask for whom the death penalty can be a deterrent, I say to them, come and see for yourself in Singapore, and compare the region and the rest of the world... we do not have slums, ghettos, no-go zones for the police, or syringes in our playgrounds," he added.

As he had said in Parliament during debates on the death penalty, Mr Shanmugam said the punishment, as part of a larger framework of laws, and coupled with effective enforcement, had been effective in keeping drug traffickers out of the country.

This has allowed Singapore to protect its society and its people from becoming victims, he said.

"This is not revenge; this is not vengeance. This is based on the principle of deterrence and clear rule of law," he said.

Earlier, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said judicial systems with the death penalty were based on vengeance, and that "revenge alone is not justice".

Mr Shanmugam also said there is "not enough focus" on the victims of those sent to the gallows.

"Drug traffickers impose immense penalties, including the death penalty, on their victims. Thousands of people die," he said, adding that the debate also often "proceeds on generalised statements and ideology".

But to make progress, the focus would have to shift to facts, such as "the nexus between the drug trafficker and his thousands of victims". "To portray the debate as one of taking lives versus not taking lives is a straw man argument," he added.

Singapore was among a minority of UN member states at the meeting that was against the abolition of the death penalty.

Legislative changes were passed in November 2012 to remove the mandatory death penalty for certain instances of murder and drug trafficking.

yuenc@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Sept 27, 2014.
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