Friday, June 28, 2013

Aftermath of the World Congress - back to Thailand

Thai Government spokesperson reveals Thai position on death penalty
In a discussion entitled Global Trend toward Abolition of the Death Penalty hosted on 27 June 2013 by Department of Rights and Liberty Protection Mr. Nitee Jitsawang, deputy director of the Thailand Institute of Justice spoke on the Thai position on the death penalty. He declared the Thai objective as de facto abolition, a status commonly ascribed to countries which have not executed for a ten year period. He indicated Thailand’s transition in the UN vote on a Moratorium from opposition to abstention as a major stepping stone on the way to abolition. He identified other major advances Thailand’s legislation passed in 2012 to withhold the death penalty for those under 18 years of age, and for pregnant woman. On the other hand he pointed to public opinion in favour of the death penalty as the great obstacle to abolition in Thailand. Nevertheless, the policy of waiting for the status of de facto abolition in 2019 would bring the day closer when Thailand would abandon the death penalty. He pointed out the huge task for government of constructing high security prisons in remote areas should the government decide to substitute permanent imprisonment without parole to replace the penalty of death.

This is sorry stuff indeed, when compared with the enthusiasm and convictions of the recent World Congress on Abolition. At the Congress the status of defacto abolitionist was declared ineffective. Such abolition is unstable and can be abandoned at will as in the cases of India and Pakistan. There is no substitute for a legal engagement to abolish the death penalty such as is contained in the 2nd Optional Protocol to the International Convention on Cultural and Political Rights, or even formal response to the UN Moratorium call. Mr. Nitee is surely aware that Thailand’s halting advance to abstention from voting was due to pressure on the Ministry of Justice by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which is more attuned to the winds of change in the UN. The other large steps claimed by Mr. Nitee are merely official formulation of decisions long made before to spare the lives of under 18s and pregnant women, although in the latter case execution may still follow the birth of the child. In fact we are aware of only one execution of a woman, pregnant or not, in recent Thai practice, and one case of an under 18 where the actual age was not fully clear. It is deceptive to claim these measures as large steps in Thailand’s path to abolition.
The indication that Thailand is considering replacing the death penalty with life imprisonment without parole is the most worrying indication of Thailand’s intent. The speaker conceded that such a punishment could be worse than the death penalty, and by perverted logic appeared to suggest that this was an argument to retain the death penalty. Whatever, we will fight against such a policy with the same vigour as we oppose the death penalty itself. 
Finally, the contention of the speaker that public opposition to abolition is the reason for government hesitation is specious. Three years after declaring a policy of abolition in its 2nd human rights plan the government has made no attempt to inform or educate the public on the matter. Will public opinion change of its own accord by 2019? 
In a message to the World Congress 2013 the UN Secretary General identified a lack of political will on the part of authorities as the main cause of persistence of the death penalty. As in Thailand.

The time scheduled for the Global Trend discussion was three hours, two hours for invited speakers and one hour for questions and discussion. There were three brief reactions from civil society organizations. One was from a Prachathai journalist who attended the Madrid conference and who was told by the organizers that direct invitation had been issued to Thai officials and members of government, but that there had been no response. There were no further questions or discussion. The meeting closed one hour ahead of schedule, an indication of interest in the subject!

World Congress on Abolition 4 - Death Penalty as Torture

“Considering the death penalty as torture in international law would not be another step, it is the ultimate step to establish that the death penalty is illegal all the time, everywhere and under any circumstance,” Sylvie Bukhari-de Pontual, president of FIACAT (a World Coalition member organisation) told the 5th World Congress Against the Death Penalty.
International jurisprudence, including that of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, considers the absolute prohibition of torture to apply at all times to all states, even those that have not ratified international conventions against torture.
Although United Nations reports have established close links between the death penalty and torture, Bukhari-de Pontual regretted that “human rights bodies are still avoiding this question and talk about ‘cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment’” instead.
Yet Vincent Warren, executive director of the US-based Center for Constitutional Rights (another World Coalition member), left no room for doubt. He said clinical studies of people sentenced to death had demonstrated the existence of a “death row syndrome” including four disorders: sense of helplessness and defeat, sense of diffuse danger, emotional emptiness and loneliness, and decline in mental and physical acuity.
“Each lays the foundation for torture. What else would it take to convince the states that it is effectively torture?” Warren asked.
(From  World Coalition site, see link)

Thailand appears satisfied to achieve a state of abolition in practice, by continuing with death sentences at a rate of one a week, but emptying the cells periodically by Royal commutation of sentence. However, this cycle leaves the condemned for eight to ten years in the state of uncertainty of prisoners condemned to death, in the awful conditions of Bang Kwang prison and with no programme of rehabilitation. For what purpose?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

World Congress on Abolition 3

The garrotte, instrument of execution made famous by the paintings of Goya 200 years ago was last used in Spain in 1974. It consists of an iron collar fitted around the neck of the convict. Turning the handle at the other end broke the neck and caused "instant" death. More often than not, inept use led to strangulation and half an hour of agony for the dying person. One of these instruments was exhibited in the Congress Hall during the Congress. As shown in the image, the person executed was provided a crucifix to find what comfort he might in the death of his Saviour. One might recall that for 200 years after the death of Christ Christians were opposed to the death penalty. On becoming citizens of  Rome they accepted the authority of the state to execute.
Few, if any, of those attending the Congress were seen observing this awful symbol of the death penalty.

World Congress on Abolition 2

In a recent survey of US death penalty practice CCR (Centre for Constitutional Rights) and FIDH (Federation Internationale des Droits Humains) report:
In California, the state with the largest death row population – 752 people – prisoners spend an average of two decades on an overcrowded death row as they wait for attorneys to be assigned and courts to rule on their post-conviction claims.  In Louisiana, death row prisoners face blistering heat over 100 degrees, scalding hot water and solitary confinement, and they receive little rehabilitation or recreation.  African Americans are overrepresented on death row in both states. While they make up only 32 percent of the general population in Louisiana, they represent 65 percent of the state’s death row. In California, African Americans make up 6.7 percent of the general population, but 36 percent of those on death row. Juries in death penalty cases are overwhelmingly white in both states.

World Congress on Abolition 1

5th World Congress for Abolition of the Death Penalty: Madrid 12th – 15th June, 2013
Since 2001, each three years a world congress for abolition of the death penalty is held. Until the present, the world meeting was located in a European city, with the exception of 2004, when it was held in Montreal, no doubt to bring the message of abolition closer to the US, one of the bastions of execution in a world making steady progress to total abolition.
Earlier congresses began on a note of celebration, welcoming new adherents to abolition. At the 2010 Congress in Geneva, there was an atmosphere of high hope with a prediction that the death penalty could be banished for ever by as early as the year 2015.
In Madrid, 2013, there was little expectation of such an early victory over the age old curse and aberration of human rights. The promise implied in the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 is still the mast head of the movement for abolition: Article 3 “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”. In 1948 only 8 countries had abolished the death penalty. Currently, more than 150 countries have either abolished the death penalty or do not practise it. Last year, 174 United Nations Member States were "execution-free". The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, being entrusted by the UN with special responsibility for achieving the ideal of the Universal Declaration, keeps tally of the state of abolition.
He addressed a ringing invitation to the delegates of the 5th World Congress. In a statement read at the official opening, he implored political leaders in countries across the world that still have the death penalty in their justice systems to abolish it, saying that the campaign to eliminate the death penalty as a form of punishment has mainly faced resistance from political leaders. In Thailand, the attitude of our leaders is rather one of apathy and disinterest, but the outcome is the same, persistence of death sentences in legal process. The secretary General added: "The taking of life is too absolute and irreversible for one human being to inflict on another, even when backed by a legal process. Too often, multiple layers of judicial oversight still fail to reverse wrongful death penalty convictions for years and even decades."
Shadows, alluded to by Ban Ki Moon, were cast on the 5th Congress by a persistence of the death penalty which appear to contrast with the steady advance to abolition celebrated in earlier congresses. It appears that the gains of the past which led to the elimination of the death penalty in the 47 nation block of the Council of Europe, in the European Union, in the majority of American states, in many members of the Organization of African States, have reached geographical and ideological limits. In these countries, abolition of the death penalty was favoured by a cultural unanimity, which made it possible to impose it as a condition of membership, or to declare it as a favoured objective. Outside these regions, the advance to abolition must be made one country at a time, even if membership of the United Nations implies acceptance of the Universal Declaration. But the Declaration is not a binding treaty, and clear though its stand may be on the inviolability of life, nation members can and do continue to claim exemption from compulsory adherence. Some nations, notably Singapore, go even further and submit a formal objection to the UN sponsored motion calling for a moratorium on the death penalty, first passed by majority vote of the UN General Assembly in 2007 and repeated with a stronger voice in 2008, 2010 and 2012.
The Programme of the 5th Congress revealed the serious concern of the world movement in the choice of topic of its plenary sessions. The first was devoted to what is now referred to as the MENA (Middle East and North African) region. The question asked was “Which arguments in favour of abolition from a sociological, religious and legal point of view? (sic)”. The crux of the matter is that the states of the MENA region are Muslim states where religion is paramount and Koranic injunctions of capital punishment are considered mandatory. In a huge plenary session it is not possible to have an open discussion. Exchange of viewpoint took place in parallel workshops which allowed participation of delegates. Specific subjects were, “Terrorism and abolition”, “Iran: What are the political instruments to try to stop execution waves”
The theme of terrorism was often heard throughout the Congress, referring to crimes for which some states were most insistent on retaining the death penalty. While states which retain the death penalty are increasingly prepared to restrict its use, they insist on its retention as a supposed remedy for the worst of the worst of crimes, namely terrorism. Those who oppose the death penalty for all crimes, respond that terrorists do not fear death and allowing the death penalty for terrorism is rewarding the terrorist with martyrdom!
The second day of the Congress, 14th June, began with a second plenary session on “Asia”. Asia, referred to as “The New Frontier” in a seminal work on the death penalty in Asia, is the area where most executions in the world occur. China alone executes more than all other countries combined. The exact number is considered a state secret and unknown.  A conservative estimate is 7280 per year but a speculative figure reaches 10,000. In Asia too there occurs another sombre development, the reappearance of the death penalty in countries such as India and Pakistan which had been considered as de facto abolitionist, a title give to countries which were recorded as execution free for a period of ten years. A return to executions is usually ascribed to the need to counter terrorism. So central is the Asian region to the total of world executions that there is a strong movement to locate the next Congress in three years time to an Asian country, facilitating greater Asian participation and tackling the death penalty on its most tenacious ground.
Spain, and Madrid’s majestic Palacio Municipal de Congresso, provided a congenial meeting place for the huge congress against the death penalty. In a central room of the congress was exhibited a garrotte, the grotesque instrument of execution in Spain, which had been used for hundreds of years to inflict death, last used in 1974. This instrument of horror is a stark reminder of the heritage of suffering we are now working to end, and to remind countries which have already abolished the death penalty that we speak from sad experience and not from any position of moral superiority.

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Buddhist Lesson on Penalty of Death

The Silent Prince
In ‘The Silent Prince”, Somtow Sucharitkul presents in operatic form a Buddhist lesson on human accountability and the death penalty. The opera relates the pre-history of the Buddha in a previous incarnation. Such pre-incarnation stories are a technique of relating isolated instances of Buddhist teaching where the Buddha, not yet enlightened, is faced with a moral ambiguity, the solution of which is an essential step on the path to enlightenment.
In the tale of the Silent Prince the gods in heaven, who are also subject to the cycle of rebirth, hear the plea of an anguished queen, which echoes the sorrow of the human race.  She and her husband the king are without child or heir to the Kingdom of Kashi in Benares. A deva, to be the future Buddha, is sent to be born and is named Temiya.
A few years later the King decides that the time has come for Tamiya to move beyond childhood, and begin to assume responsibilities of kingship. On a day of judgement a criminal is brought before the King and the sovereign delegates to his son the powerr to order the execution. The dilemma is set. The most basic tenet of Buddhism is that all life is sacred, to order even the just death of a criminal would block the path to enlightenment of the future Buddha. As the boy raises his hand to obey his father, a moral obligation of his state in life, Temiya learns from the God of the Underworld that in a previous existence he was once King of Benares, and that the executions he had ordered, led to delays in his reincarnation for millions of pain filled years. The boy withdraws into silence, and the King himself executes the criminal before him.
Years pass and Temiya remains silent. The King tempts him with beautiful girls, and a day of full regality to receive the homage of the population. But neither one attraction nor the other lures Temiya to break his silence. In desperation, the King orders his closest servant to take Temiya to the forest, to kill and bury him. He promises the Queen other children who will fulfill their wishes of royal succession.
The servant leads Temiya to the forest and begins to dig the grave. However, he is overcome by a vision of the future Buddha, and at last Temiya speaks to explain why he has been silent and urges the servant not to interrupt his long journey to enlightenment which will take many more lifetimes to unblock the secret to human suffering.
But the order of a King cannot be unsaid. When the King and Queen hear the story of Temiya they abdicate their royalty, leave Benares, and live simply as disciples of their
son. The heavens open and the gods themselves rejoice that a further step to enlightenment has been made.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Kampong Boy - M Ravi

M. Ravi is a good lawyer. He is good at what he does, he does it for good reasons, and, above all, he is a good man. His autobiography ‘Kampong Boy’ begins the story in his village. Reminded of the African proverb, that “it takes a whole village to raise a single child”, we see Ravi make his first advances in human compassion in his own troubled family, and in the mixture of helpful support of some as well as disdain of others, that make up a village environment. He grew up in an Indian culture, with a feel for the Tamil language which he mastered well, and which fostered the eloquence that was to make him a great performer in courts. In Indian dance he was less proficient, unaware that enthusiasm and energy were not quite sufficient to master an art that requires the coaching of a mentor. But the dance has given him immense personal satisfaction, a philosophy of life, a means of creative expression, and a refuge in times of stress.
In the context of this page our interest is above all in his empathy for ‘les miserables’, those on the edge of life who are rejected by society and condemned to death. It is utterly moving to read of his interest in taking up the most hopeless cases, of those with barely days to live, to whom every avenue of escape from the death penalty appears closed by Singapore’s robotic system of justice. As he scans the impenetrable walls of Singapore’s justice, his legal and humane genius discovers barely discernable cracks which can be exploited. Tragedy in his own life has given him a sensitivity for the centres of pain in the lives of the victims of the monstrous injustice of the death penalty. He travels to meet the families of the condemned and, literally, becomes members of those families, returning with some token possession of the condemned, as a talisman to inspire their defense. Some cases he has lost, as when a judge refused a delay an execution to await the result of a procedural appeal but, callously granted time to take leave of his client.
His most notable success is the case of  Yong Vui Kong, the self confessed young drug mule, who by all the logic of Singapore’s inexorable mandatory death penalty should be long dead, but whose life has now been extended by a further three years due to Ravi’s exertions for another ‘kampong boy’. While the case continues, it is clear that Singapore’s judiciary has lost the stomach to send a technically guilty but ethically innocent child to the gallows. This change of heart has even extended to Malaysia where sympathy for Yong, a Malaysian citizen, has caused the Malaysian government to make unprecedented representation for cancellation of his death penalty
Here lies the ultimate contradiction of the death penalty and its executioners. You may dress the execution in all the paraphernalia of your trade, solemn courts and codes of law, black caps, last meals and cigarettes, rolls of drums, but who are you and what are you to abrogate the right of life and death over another human being?
“The death of any man diminishes me” wrote John Donne.”There but for the grace of God go I” said a saint as he watched a man being led to the gallows. Ravi, for his part gives example of a fight tooth and nail against all executions. Meanwhile he invites us to join while he dances Lasy, the gentle form of South Indian dance, and Tandava the violent and dangerous side of dance. Perhaps we too will catch a glimpse of chakras, the spiritual energy centre which inspires him
 Kampong Boy: M. Ravi, Ethos Books Singapore, 2013

Monday, June 03, 2013

Sad statistics of a country which still hands down death sentences 1

Department of Corrections 1May 2013 
สถิตินักโทษประหารชีวิตทุกคดีความผิด - all crimes
เพศ Gender
Under appeal
Supreme court
Legal process complete
ชาย male
หญิง female
รวม combined

ตารางที่ 2
สถิตินักโทษประหารชีวิตคดียาเสพติดให้โทษ - drug related crimes

ตารางที่ 3
สถิตินักโทษประหารชีวิตคดีความผิดอื่นๆ - Other crimes