Sunday, March 11, 2012

Aquilino Pimentel Confronts Death Penalty in Thailand

Senator Aquilino Pimentel was leader of the successful movement for abolition of the death penalty in the Philippines. This week, 7th to 10th March he came to Bangkok to share his experience at a time when Thailand too is approaching abolition. The promise is made in the 2nd National Human Rights Plan, 2009 - 2014, but there are strong forces holding to the death penalty in Thailand.
Ex-Senator Pimentel spent over two days meeting with Thai senators, with officials of the Ministry of Justice charged with preparing the way for abolition, and with members of the press. The following two accounts in Bangkok Post and The Nation report on his activities.
Thailand to tell UN why courts hand down death
Bangkok Post: 10/03/2012
Thailand is to explain to the United Nations Human Rights Council next week why it has not yet abolished capital punishment.

Pimentel: Little deterrence
The session will be held in Geneva on March 15. The Thai position is that it has to wait for the result of a Justice Ministry study on the the country's second national human rights plan which includes an examination on the appropriateness of maintaining the death penalty.
Activists, however, urged the country to abolish capital punishment.
Danthong Breen, of the Union for Civil Liberty, said 140 of 192 UN member states have either signed a moratorium or have no death penalty. In the Asia Pacific region, 17 countries have abolished the death penalty for all offences but 14 countries, including Thailand, still have it.
As of February this year, 622 people are condemned to death in Thailand, he told a panel discussion this week at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT).
Of that number, 88 are on death row, all are men and half of them were drug offenders, Mr Breen said.
The last time an execution was carried out in Thailand was in August 2009 when two convicted drug traffickers were given lethal injections.
The Bangkok-based anti-capital punishment campaigner said he was concerned about an on-going effort to reduce the amount of drugs needed for a mandatory death sentence to just 10 grammes.
He said experience in other countries showed the death penalty is unlikely to be abolished by popular vote but through the efforts and moral convictions of opinion leaders.
Another campaigner at the FCCT discussion said studies show that capital punishment has little deterrence value.
Aquilino Pimentel, a former Philippine's senator, said the death penalty was also biased against the poor, the uneducated and the marginalised, at least in the Philippines' case.
Mr Pimentel, 79, spearheaded a three-year-campaign against the death penalty which resulted in its abolition in June 2006. "The death penalty existed for 485 years under Spain, then 110 years under the American occupation, and another 60 years under our own republic. [The campaign] was not easy, but with a determined social media, there should be a shining light," Mr Pimentel said.
Backed by the Bangkok-based Union for Civil Liberty and Amnesty International, the former senator has held discussions with the Justice Ministry, the Senate committee on justice and human rights, and the media on just how little deterrence capital punishment offers.
Another panelist Phongthep Thepkanjana, a former justice minister during the Thaksin Shinawatra administration, said abolishing the death penalty should not be a controversial issue for the government if it is replaced by a stiff sentence without parole.
The former justice minister and a former judge said Thailand has conducted very few executions in past decades even though several hundred have been sentenced to death. The courts often commute sentences, they said.
Former Philippine senator urges Thais to scrap ‘uncivilised’ death penalty
Pravit Rojanaphruk
The Nation on Sunday
Civilised society should abolish capital punishment because it is inhumane, essentially based on a medieval concept of retribution, and risks innocent people being put to death, according to Aquilino Pimentel, a former Philippine senator who played an key role in ending the death penalty in his country in 2006.
Visiting Bangkok at the invitation of Amnesty International Thailand and the Union for Civil Liberty, 79yearold Pimentel urged Thais opposed to capital punishment to keep their “passion” burning, despite hearing that many Thais, including senior Buddhist monks, still support executions.
“A majority of Thais still do not support [abolition of the death penalty],” human rights lawyer Sarawut Prathumraj said. Sarawut told Pimentel that many Thais look back fondly to the 1960s and the era of dictator Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat, who was known for summarily executing people accused of committing arson in public areas.
Thailand’s Human Rights Master Plan for 2009 to 2013 states that the Kingdom aims to abolish capital punishment by the end of the period, but the goal seems far removed from reality, as there is no visible movement towards that end at present.
Pimentel met and addressed the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, chaired by appointed Senator Somchai Sawaengkarn. Members of the committee exchanged differing views with Pimentel, with one member defending execution by lethal injection – the method practised in Thailand today – as “humane”, and another saying that the death penalty was needed to rid society of its scourges. Another member told Pimentel that it was not uncommon for some convicts who are sentenced to death to have their sentences commuted and to eventually walk free after a decade or so in prison.
Pimentel argued that the death penalty doesn’t give condemned criminals the opportunity to reform themselves, while the risk of even one person being wrongly executed was too high for a civilised society to bear.
Pimentel said the notion of “an eye for an eye”, also known as the Lex Talionis principle of Roman law, was medieval and not suited for modern society.
“If Lex Talionis were to be used to justify the imposition of the death penalty as an act of retribution, then in those cases of murder or rape, before the criminals are executed, they should first be subjected to the indignities or outright tortures that had been inflicted on the victims so that the criminals undergo the same level of pain as that suffered by the victims,” he said.
The former Philippine senator also cited various works showing that the death penalty had no deterrent effect on criminality.
Somchai said after the meeting with Pimentel that the committee was interested in continuing to debate capital punishment, but added that “some people see the need for the death penalty to deal with those who are beyond [redemption].” He added that a compromise could eventually be struck, such as replacing the death penalty with long prison terms without parole, as is practised in the Philippines today.
Pimentel said that since the death penalty was abolished in his country, heinous crimes that would once have drawn a sentence of death were now punished by imprisonment for 20 to 40 years without parole. Some argue that long jail terms are an even worse punishment than death, he said.
One member of the Senate panel argued that it was better to kill a bird than keep it in a cage without letting it see the Sun, which was cruel and inhumane, like a long prison sentence. Pimentel said he couldn’t answer on behalf of the bird, however.

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