15 November 2005
The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights issued the following statement today:
Philip Alston, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, today called on the Government of Singapore not to proceed with the planned execution of Nguyen Tuong Van. Mr Nguyen was sentenced to death for attempting to traffic just under 400 grams of pure heroin through Changi Airport in December 2002.
Mr. Alston, a law professor at New York University, said that the execution of Mr Nguyen would violate international legal standards relating to the imposition of the death penalty.
The principal problem, according to Alston, is the mandatory nature of the death penalty. “Making such a penalty mandatory – thereby eliminating the discretion of the court – makes it impossible to take into account mitigating or extenuating circumstances and eliminates any individual determination of an appropriate sentence in a particular case”, Alston noted. “The adoption of such a black and white approach is entirely inappropriate where the life of the accused is at stake. Once the sentence has been carried out it is irreversible.”
In the Nguyen case, the Singapore Court of Appeal considered a range of cases decided by the Privy Council. But, according to Alston, “it failed to examine the most relevant case of all”
(Boyce and Joseph v. The Queen, decided in 2004). In that case four of the Law Lords endorsed the statement that “No international human rights tribunal anywhere in the world has ever found a mandatory death penalty regime compatible with international human rights norms.”
Professor Alston noted that the Singaporean Government had, in the past, stated that “the death penalty is primarily a question for the sovereign jurisdiction of each country”. He indicated, however, that matters relating to the functioning of the criminal justice system are legitimate matters of international concern when questions of non-compliance with international standards are involved.
Noting the longstanding commitment of the Singaporean courts to the rule of law, Alston called upon the Government of Singapore to take all necessary steps to avoid an execution which is inconsistent with accepted standards of international human rights law.