Thursday, March 04, 2010

Increasing Scope of Death Penalty

Press Conference to Announce Campaign Extending Death Penalty for Drug Offenses
“On 13th January 2010, in the Ministry of Interior, Mr. Chuawat Chanwarakun, the Minister of Interior, signed a petition to modify three regulations for the control of drugs, the Drug Control Act of 1976, the Drug Punishment Act of 1979, and the Effective Punishment of Drug Offenders Act of 2002. The Minister announced that his action was in support of the Interior Ministry 'Cleansing Campaign', aimed at putting an end to drug offenses, for the good of the country.
Mr. Chuawat indicated that the punishment indicated article 65, namely life imprisonment, and a fine of 1 to 5 million baht, should be increased to life imprisonment, and a fine of 1 to 5 million baht, or, the death penalty. In article 66, the punishment for possession of addictive substances of more than 20 gms from four years to life imprisonment, should be increased to life imprisonment, a fine of 1 to 5 million baht, or the death penalty for a quantity exceeding 10 gms.
For article 93 which deals with inducing others to be addicted; if the drug involved is heroin the punishment should be doubled. In addition if the person induced is a woman or a juvenile, the punishment should be death. Amphetamines should also be included.”

The Campaign aimed to collect 10,000 signatures to support submission of the bill to Parliament. Another spokesman of the Ministry expressed the opinion that “more than 10 million people all over the country would sign”

Increased Penalties: Comment

The initiative of the Ministry of Interior to increase punishments for drug offenses, with a consequent increase in grounds for sentence of death is against Thailand’s commitments to international treaties. The reasons given for the increase are not supported by any evidence. Finally, the method of submitting the plea for legal change by mounting a campaign for public signature, is wholly inappropriate and ill advised.

Increased Penalties contravene international commitments
The increasing rejection of the death penalty throughout the world finds its inspiration in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “Everyone has the right to life”, which expressed a growing realization of the wrongness of the death penalty. The words of the Universal Declaration were expanded in Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCP), “Every human being has the inherent right to life”. Provision is made for countries “which have not abolished the death penalty”, the negative expression itself indicating that abolition should be the norm. “Sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes”. The intention of the Covenant that abolition is the norm is added in the final sentence of Article 6, “Nothing in this article shall be invoked to delay or to prevent the abolition of capital punishment by any State Party to the present Covenant”, ICCP Art. 6.6
Thailand ratified this Covenant on 29th October 1996, but, contrary to the final injunction just quoted, has since justified its continued use of the death penalty by alluding to the acceptance in Article 6 that some countries have not abolished the death penalty, and need not do so.

The meaning of the words of the Universal Declaration, and of the International Convention, have been further clarified throughout the years, especially regarding the phrase ‘most serious crimes’. The strongest such clarification was issued by the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva on the occasion of the Report submitted in July 2005 to the Human Rights Committee regarding Thailand’s fulfillment of its obligations to the Covenant. In the final observations delivered by the Human Rights Committee is the admonition, “The State Party should review the imposition of the death penalty for offences related to drug trafficking, to reduce the categories of crime punishable by death”, CCPR/CO/84/THA par.14. In short, the Committee points out that drug-trafficking charges are not the ‘most serious crimes’ for which the death penalty is tolerated as a temporary expedient on the way to total abolition, referred to in Article 6.6.

Thailand ratified ICCP and submitted its first report referred to above in July 2005. It is unfortunate that despite the very wide representation of Government Departments on the occasion of the report, the Ministry of Interior was not represented. Nevertheless, they must be aware of the content of ICCP itself and of the comments made by the UN Human Rights Committee, of which the text was to be published and disseminated throughout the country. CCPR/CO/84/THA par.25. How then can the Ministry not only assent to the continued application of the death penalty for drug related crimes, but even attempt by its present action to increase the categories of crime punishable by death?

Increased Penalties not effective
At present the number of countries which have effectively abandoned the death penalty amounts to 149 countries, while only 25 countries persist in actual executions. The rapid increase in countries opting for abolition over the last twenty years follows the conviction that the death penalty is ‘useless and ineffective’. This is not the place to go into the details of this evidence, which has been well reported in the successive editions of ‘The Death Penalty’ by Roger Hood. The relevance to Asian countries is exhaustively treated in ‘The Next Frontier’ by David T. Johnson and Franklin E. Zimring . In a press conference to reveal the campaign of the Ministry of Interior to increase Penalties for drug trafficking, Mr. Saksiam Chidchop claimed that the policy was an adoption of the successful policy of Malaysia and Singapore. The evidence for such a claim is simply not available. Singapore does not reveal the total number of executions; less still does it differentiate executions on drug charges from those for other crimes. One would expect that such statistics would be openly displayed if the intention of the executions is deterrence. There are indications that the policy is not working, on the basis of such evidence as the relatively low street cost of drugs in Singapore, which would be unlikely if the trade was strongly deterred. In the case of Malaysia the reduced availability of drugs has been ascribed to the small number of international flights through it airports rather than to drug suppression punishment. The present consensus is that capital punishment does not succeed as a deterrent for either drug related or any other crimes: “ far as some crimes threatened by capital punishment in several countries are concerned, such as importing or trading in illegal drugs, economic crimes, or politically motivated violence, there simply is no reliable evidence of any kind relating to the deterrent effects of executions” Hood, p.320, op.cit.. So much for calling on the examples of Singapore and Malaysia to persuade people to sign a petition to extend the death penalty for drug crimes!

Inappropriate Campaign for Public Signature
While it is true that public opinion concerning the death penalty has relevance, democratic government is not government by public opinion. The question has been examined by William Schabas , who writing in a chapter entitled “Public Opinion and the Death Penalty” identifies the opinion of ‘an informed citizenry’ as the motive force in evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of maturing society, and lead to acceptance of abolition. Nothing can be more wrong than to present an abstract poll that has elicited generalized emotional responses. It is certain that the signature campaign of the Ministry of Interior is not based on an educational campaign to explain the issues at stake; the option is to sign the petition or not, based on obedience to the immense forces for influence of the ministry, and an abhorrence of the evils of drug trade. Just as the drug trade was not solved by the criminal extrajudicial killings of 2003 to 2004, so, an extension of the death penalty will be equally ineffective. Drugs are an evil in society, and must be fought by cutting off the sources of supply, by social remedies to the distress that influences people to turn in despair to the mirage of drug induced relief. The task is the whole reform of society depending on education, the growth of a meaningful prosperity and culture, including a retreat from the use of violence, in which abolition of the death penalty will set a standard.
The submission of a government act by signature of 10,000 citizens was intended in the constitution to allow a way for the population to whom other avenues were closed to have their voice heard. The Ministry of Interior is already an organ of government and has the way available to submit its suggestions for democratic debate. The attempt to force the issue by a mass signature campaign headed by its officials, employees, and dependents is not an appropriate approach. It would be useful indeed if the Ministry initiated an informed debate on the issues of Capital Punishment as recommended in the UN General Assembly majority votes of 1997 and 1998 to be accompanied by a Moratorium on all executions for whatever crime.

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