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UN RIGHTS EXPERT CALLS ON SINGAPORE NOT TO CARRY OUT EXECUTION

HR/07/9
25 January 2007


The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions of the United Nations Human Rights Council issued the following statement today:

Philip Alston, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions of the United Nations Human Rights Council, today called on the Government of Singapore not to proceed with the planned execution of Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi, a Nigerian citizen. Mr Tochi was sentenced to death for attempting to traffic diamorphine (heroin) into Singapore in November 2004 and is scheduled to be executed by hanging on 26 January 2007.

“It is a fundamental human right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty,” Alston said. “The standard accepted by the international community is that capital punishment may be imposed only when the guilt of the person charged is based upon clear and convincing evidence leaving no room for an alternative explanation of the facts.” Alston indicated that these rights are recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty. “Singapore cannot reverse the burden and require a defendant to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he didn’t know that he was carrying drugs,” Alston said.

The trial judge appears to have accepted that Mr Tochi might not have realized that the capsules he was carrying contained heroin, stating that “[t]here was no direct evidence that he knew the capsules contained diamorphine, or that he had found that out on his own” but that “ignorance did not exculpate him”. He was convicted and sentenced to death. (The death sentence is mandatory for the offence of trafficking more than 15 grammes of heroin.) The appeal court rejected the trial court’s suggestion that it was irrelevant whether Mr Tochi had knowledge of what he was carrying. Nevertheless, it upheld his conviction. The appeal court reasoned that under Singapore law such knowledge is presumed until the defendant rebuts that presumption “on a balance of probabilities”, concluding that, “It is not sufficient for [a defendant] merely to raise a reasonable doubt.” His appeals have been exhausted and, reportedly, his petition for clemency has been rejected.

Alston said that the execution of Mr Tochi would violate international legal standards relating to the imposition of the death penalty. “One of the tasks given to me by the UN Human Rights Council is to monitor states’ respect for those safeguards in order to protect the human rights of those facing the death penalty,” Alston said. “In the case of Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi, the Government of Singapore has failed to ensure respect for the relevant legal safeguards. Under the circumstances, the execution should not proceed.”

Alston also said that Singapore law making the death penalty mandatory for drug trafficking was inconsistent with international human rights standards. “Singapore’s decision to make the death penalty mandatory keeps judges from considering all of the factors relevant to determining whether a death sentence would be permissible in a capital case,” Alston said.

Mr Tochi’s co-defendant, Okele Nelson Malachy of South Africa, was convicted of having abetted Mr Tochi’s offence and was also sentenced to death. There has reportedly been no date set for his execution, but it would raise similar grave human rights issues.

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For use of the information media; not an official record