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Advocating for Humanity: A Call to End Capital Punishment Globally


Opinion: The Transformative Power of Clemency in Abolishing the Death Penalty

By Elbegdorj Tsakhia, Former President of Mongolia and Commissioner of the International Committee against Death Penalty

In the aftermath of Singapore's recent presidential election, where Tharman Shanmugaratnam secured victory in a landslide, the world witnesses a ceremonial figure assuming a position that holds a significant power—the authority to grant clemency to death row inmates. Although largely symbolic, this authority has the potential to reshape the identity of this Asian nation-state and convey a powerful message globally.

Reflecting on my own experience as the President of Mongolia from 2009 to 2017, I understand the profound impact that wielding the power of clemency can have. Upon assuming office, I confronted an arbitrary, secretive, and cruel implementation of the death penalty in Mongolia. Leveraging my presidential prerogative, I initially granted pardons to those scheduled for execution. Despite facing resistance, I championed the legislative process that led to the complete abolition of the death penalty in 2016. Mongolia's commitment to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, coupled with the removal of the death penalty from national statutes, stands as one of the defining moments of my political career.

Mongolia is not alone in its shift away from capital punishment. According to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, DC, by the end of 2022, over two-thirds of the world's nations had abandoned the practice. Notably, four countries—Kazakhstan, Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone, and the Central African Republic—abolished the death penalty for all crimes last year, as reported by Amnesty International.

However, amid this global progress, the rise in executions persists in some regions, fueled by outliers such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Amnesty report highlights a concerning trend, stating, "Known executions, excluding the thousands believed to have taken place in China, significantly increased by 53% on those for 2021, from 579 (2021) to 883 (2022)."

As Singapore navigates the dawn of a new presidential era, the power to grant clemency holds the potential to redefine its stance on capital punishment. The international community watches closely, recognizing that the sparing of lives through clemency contributes not only to individual justice but also to a broader global narrative against the death penalty. The path to a world without capital punishment is paved with the decisions of leaders who choose compassion over cruelty and mercy over retribution. Singapore, with its newfound leadership, has an opportunity to align itself with the growing tide of nations choosing humanity over the irreversible act of state-sanctioned death.

Editor’s Elbegdorj Tsakhia served as the president of Mongolia from 2009 to 2017 and is a commissioner of the International Committee against Death Penalty (ICDP). The views expressed in this commentary are his own.

Challenging Singapore's Capital Punishment Stance: A Call for Humanity Over Harshness

The recent surge in executions in Singapore, particularly concerning the resumption of capital punishment for drug offenses, has drawn the attention of the global community. Since March 2022, Singapore has executed 16 individuals, with the most recent cases involving small-scale drug trafficking, including the rare execution of a woman in July – a move that raises ethical questions and challenges the efficacy of such punitive measures.

As the former President of Mongolia and a staunch advocate against the death penalty, I find Singapore's heavy-handed approach disconcerting. The moral and ethical dimensions of capital punishment, coupled with mounting evidence that it does not effectively deter crime compared to life imprisonment, underscore the need for a reconsideration of this practice. Research from Amnesty International has shown that the death penalty does not provide a more significant deterrent effect than life imprisonment.

The notion that ending the death penalty imposes Western values on Asian societies is a misconception. In reality, it is a choice rooted in universal human rights, embraced by the majority of nations worldwide. During my tenure as Mongolia's president, we successfully abolished the death penalty, disproving the notion that such a move would unleash a wave of violent crime. In fact, homicide rates continued to decline, indicating that executions had not served as a deterrent.

Despite my opposition to the death penalty under any circumstances, I find Singapore's continued use of it for nonviolent drug offenses particularly troubling. The excessive response to challenges related to the illicit drug trade should shift towards policies emphasizing harm reduction and public health instead of punitive measures. Targeting individuals at the lower rungs of the drug trade, many of whom are coerced into their roles and easily replaceable, fails to address the root issues. It also places Singapore at odds with neighboring countries, such as Thailand, which has decriminalized cannabis use, and Malaysia, which is moving towards similar legislation.

As the international community grapples with evolving perspectives on criminal justice, Singapore stands at a crossroads. Embracing a more compassionate, evidence-based approach can not only align the nation with global human rights standards but also contribute to a more just and humane society. The time is ripe for Singapore to reevaluate its stance on the death penalty, particularly in the context of nonviolent drug offenses, and champion reforms that prioritize the well-being of individuals and the collective good over punitive measures.

Rethinking the Brand: Singapore's Call to Reevaluate the Death Penalty

Amidst Singapore's commendable achievements in education, healthcare, and infrastructure, a shadow looms over its global image due to a recent surge in executions, particularly for drug offenses. While Singapore has undoubtedly built a strong national brand, global attention to its recent execution spree has sparked internal questioning about the utility of a harsh and seemingly ineffective form of punishment.

The nation's investments in education, healthcare, and infrastructure have undeniably contributed to stability and prosperity. With a highly educated and skilled workforce and a coveted passport, Singapore has much to be proud of. However, the careful management of a national brand becomes crucial, especially when practices like the death penalty come under scrutiny.

The execution of individuals over the past year has prompted citizens to question the retention of a brutal practice that, despite government assertions, is increasingly perceived as causing more harm than good. While a majority may still express support for the death penalty, studies reveal that such support wanes, particularly when scenarios involving drug trafficking are considered.

In response to global concerns, the Singaporean government contends that capital punishment serves as a deterrent, contributing to public safety. However, the mounting evidence against the efficacy of the death penalty challenges this stance. President Tharman, while not publicly expressing his views on capital punishment, has advocated for giving individuals multiple chances, potentially indicating a shift in the government's rigid policy.

As nations strive for continued prosperity, Singapore stands at a crossroads. The death penalty, despite its historical application, is increasingly viewed as incompatible with the nation's broader achievements and global standing. The internal discourse, coupled with global scrutiny, presents an opportunity for Singapore to reassess its stance on the death penalty. A shift towards more humane and evidence-based approaches can not only align Singapore with evolving international standards but also reinforce its commitment to a just and compassionate society. In relinquishing the death penalty, Singapore may discover a pathway to further enhance its global reputation and solidify its status as a beacon of progress.

Charting a Compassionate Course for Singapore's Future

Singapore, a nation distinguished by its remarkable achievements in education, healthcare, and infrastructure, now faces a pivotal moment of introspection regarding its adherence to the death penalty. The recent surge in executions, particularly for drug offenses, has cast a shadow on the nation's global reputation and prompted a critical reevaluation of its practices.

While Singapore's strong national brand is built on undeniable successes, the careful management of this brand requires a nuanced approach, especially in the face of evolving global perspectives on justice. The internal questioning sparked by the recent execution spree reflects a growing sentiment that the death penalty may be more harmful than beneficial, particularly in scenarios involving nonviolent offenses like drug trafficking.

The government's steadfast assertion of the death penalty's effectiveness as a deterrent stands in contrast to a shifting global discourse that challenges its efficacy. President Tharman's recent support for providing individuals multiple chances suggests a potential openness to reconsidering the nation's hard-line stance.

As Singaporeans grapple with this internal dialogue, the world watches, hopeful for a nation that continues to prosper and lead by example. The death penalty, seen by some as incongruent with Singapore's broader achievements, may find itself at odds with a global community increasingly prioritizing humane and evidence-based approaches to justice.

In relinquishing the death penalty, Singapore has an opportunity to not only align with evolving international standards but also to reinforce its commitment to justice, compassion, and progress. As the nation navigates the complexities of this decision, choosing a more humane course could pave the way for an even brighter future, where Singapore's global reputation reflects not just its economic prowess but also its unwavering dedication to a fair and compassionate society.