Singapore: IBAHRI condemns rise in executions and calls for halt in enforcement
The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) condemns the increasing number of executions in Singapore, with 10 death row inmates having been executed since 30 March 2022, following a two-year hiatus.
Most of the executions were for drug-related offences, which do not meet the threshold of ‘the most serious crimes’ for which death sentences may be imposed under Article 6(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in countries that have not yet abolished the death penalty.
On 29 July 2022, United Nations Special Rapporteurs and Working Group members expressed concern that ‘a disproportionate number of those being sentenced to death for drug-related offences are minority persons and tend to be from economically disadvantaged backgrounds’.
IBAHRI Co-Chair, and Immediate Past Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Dr Jur hc, stated: ‘The IBAHRI opposes the death penalty without exception and calls on the Singaporean authorities to suspend any pending executions of individuals on death row, to commute their sentences to imprisonment that complies with international human rights, standards, and norms, to immediately introduce a moratorium on executions with a view to abolition and to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its Second Optional Protocol without delay.’
In recent months, the Singaporean courts have imposed cost orders against lawyers for filing ‘frivolous, vexatious or an abuse of process’ late-stage applications on behalf of their death-row clients. On 1 August 2022, 24 death-row inmates filed a lawsuit against the Attorney-General alleging that their access to lawyers was obstructed, arguing that they were unable to secure legal representation because lawyers were afraid of such court-imposed cost orders. The High Court dismissed the lawsuit on 3 August, which the Court of Appeal upheld on 5 August.
As per Principle 16 of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers (1990), governments shall ensure that lawyers can perform their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference and shall not ‘suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognised professional duties, standards and ethics’.
IBAHRI Co-Chair Mark Stephens CBE commented: ‘Lawyers play a vital role in upholding human rights and protecting the interests of their clients. A lack of effective legal representation in capital punishment cases can result in the difference between life and death. Punitive court cost orders raise concerns around access to justice and effective legal representation and the right to a fair trial. We call on Singapore to ensure that lawyers are able to represent their clients at all stages of criminal proceedings without fear of reprisal.’
The recent executions contrast with 2019, during which Singaporean authorities reported a two-thirds reduction in executions. It is estimated that approximately 60 people remain on death row in Singapore.
Notes to the Editor
- On 15 May 2008, the IBAHRI Council adopted its Resolution on the Abolition of the Death Penalty, which considers, inter alia, the clear trend towards viewing the death penalty as a breach of international human rights standards, as well as committing the IBAHRI to actively promoting the abolition of the death penalty.
- Click here to find out more about the IBAHRI’s work on the abolition of the death penalty.
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- The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
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