Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Death penalty in Singapore; not in Cambodia

I was so sad to read this Story of a Boy, about Yong Vui Kong, a young Malaysian man who was just 18 and a half year old when he was caught making a drug delivery in Singapore. In a story that could be set in Cambodia, Vui Kong came from a poor family and ran away from home when he was just 12. He washed cars to survive, making about RM$3 (US$0.90) a day. Eventually he met a "Big Brother", who fed and clothed him, and took him to fancy restaurants. Vui Kong felt compelled to do anything “Big Brother” said. More importantly, he needed the money to pay for his mother's medical treatment.

The police found 47.27 grammes of heroin on him. A judge eventually handed him the mandatory death sentence for drug trafficking.

I remember watching French TV with English subtitles sometime in February. It was an episode of L'Editoriale and on the death penalty. The host said Singapore has the highest number of executions per capita, while the country with the most number of executions is China. I remember how horrified and disgusted I was when later I told my French friend about it over dinner. She could hardly believe it, since Singapore is supposedly a "first world" country.

[From wikipedia: Singapore had the highest per-capita execution rate in the world between 1994 and 1999, estimated by the United Nations to be 13.57 executions per one million population during that period. And out of 174 executions recorded by Amnesty International from press reports between 1993 and 2003, the number of foreign nationals totals 93, which is more than half. Many of them are believed to have been migrant workers. No wonder science fiction author William Gibson wrote a travel piece on Singapore sarcastically titled "Disneyland with the Death Penalty".]

I am glad to see the city-state has made progress. According to the Guardian: "Singapore has seen a big decline in its use of the death penalty since having the highest execution rate in the world in the 1990s, but the government is resisting any change to the law. Singapore's attorney general, Walter Woon, has argued that parliament has the power to show mercy in individual cases."

Cambodia has no death penalty, since abolishing it in 1989. (For a list of abolitionist countries, visit

In this, Cambodia bucks the trend among Southeast Asian countries.
"The only region that goes against this trend [away from the death penalty] is Southeast Asia. At the last meeting of ASEAN, the leaders of Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines said they were in favor of the death penalty and especially for sentencing drug traffickers to death. But that is the only region in the world that goes against this trend."

"There is a very interesting exception in Southeast Asia: Cambodia. Cambodia abolished the death penalty and the president of the parliament of Cambodia was in Strasbourg for the World Congress against the Death Penalty last year. He explained that like Europe, Cambodia had experienced genocide, and this was the main reason the Cambodians had decided to abolish the death penalty.

In fact, in Europe, it was easier to abolish the death penalty because we had two genocides, two world wars on our continent. It was after these debaucheries of violence that Europe abolished it."
From a 2001 Carnegie Council interview with staff from Together Against the Death Penalty. (The Philippines abolished the death penalty in 2006 - Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore still have not).

You can see the leaflets of a campaign by Singaporeans who argue against the mandatory death penalty for drug traffickers.

As for Vui Kong, only a Presidential pardon will save him. Unfortunately, President Nathan, who has been in power since 1999, is not known to have granted clemency to any condemned prisoner.

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