Activist Says: Stop Executing Criminals, We Must Make Them Feel Safe

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Singapore has come under the scrutiny of international bodies and local activists for the way we carry out criminal punishments. From drug rehabilitation to death penalty, they criticized us for violating human rights and are trying to pressurize us to change our laws.

What international organizations are saying

Last month, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) released statements calling for Singapore to stop executions. They claimed that drug offences are “not the most serious” and do not require harsh punishments. They found it unfair that “a disproportionate number” of death row inmates are of minority races and come from financially disadvantaged backgrounds.

Should we change our laws to placate their concerns?

Truth is, death penalty is not prohibited under international law. As much as the ICJ and IBAHRI expect us to respect their views on human rights, they must respect our sovereign right to determine our justice system. Singapore is our own country with our set of laws and practices. We should be free to make the call.

As for highlighting the race of death row inmates, are they suggesting we impose a “racial quota” for offenders so as to make it more “proportionate”? Is it right to allow for exceptions? Are they saying that justice is dependent on someone’s race or economic status? Going by their suggestion, things will only be more unfair. It is puzzling how these reputable organizations believe it will bring justice to the people.

What local activists are saying

Activists in Singapore echoed our lack of human rights in the way we treat prisoners. According to freelance journalist Kirsten Han, we must not view prisoners as people who have done terrible things to deserve harsh punishments. Justice is not about locking them up or giving them a hard time. It is about helping them recover and mend their relationships.

Han highlighted that the rights of prisoners are as important as ours. She thinks some prison practices, e.g. giving them food through a small gap in the door and doing strip searches, are humiliating to their dignity. She said we should be making them feel safe, not make their lives more traumatizing.

“Singapore is an extremely punitive society; when we encounter problems, we tend to jump straight into thinking about penalties… We are so fixated with punishment that we don’t even stop to think about whether what we’re doing is really addressing root causes, repairing harm, helping victims heal or preventing future incidents.

This is a mindset we need to break out of… if we really wanted a society in which families thrive, harms get repaired, and people are given the support they need to live well and heal from their pain, then we urgently need to be doing something differently.”

Would you want things to be different? Why or why not?

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