Repealing Death Penalty is Not Imposing Post- Colonial Will

16 Nov

The Reuters article, “EU under fire at U.N. death penalty debate” by Claudia Parsons dated 14 November reported a heated debate between Singapore’s representative, Kevin Cheok and the European Union and the UN General Assembly’s Human Rights Committee, in which the former was quoted,

“There was a time when our views were dismissed. Most of us here struggled for years against this. So how ironic it is that we’re now being told once again that only one view is right and that all other views are wrong.”

When human rights group criticized Singapore for the mandatory death penalty for most drug offences, Kevin Cheok was quick to rebut that such an act would “poison the atmosphere between us”. In his reply to the General Assembly’s human rights committee, he said, “We are about to embark on a divisive, unpleasant and unnecessary fight” .

In another AFP article dated 16 November, “UN panel adopts resolution calling for moratorium on death penalty”, after the non-binding resolution calling for a moratorium on executions was passed, Singapore’s UN envoy Vanu Menon, before the voting, accused the co-sponsors of imposing “a particular set of beliefs on everyone else,” and described them as “sanctimonious, hypocritical and intolerant” for having rejected a “genuine dialogue” with opponents.

The arguments made by Kevin Cheok and Vanu Menon are misleading considering that repealing the death penalty is not a solely European initiative as many countries around the world are already joining the abolitionist trend.

Amnesty International recently released a statement in support of the 75 countries who have co-sponsored the draft resolution at the General Assembly urging “all states worldwide to stop executions and called on all states to resist any amendments that could weaken the purpose of the resolution.”

According to the statement,

“No less than 130 out of 192 UN member states have already abolished the death penalty in law or practice and only 25 countries carried out executions in 2006.”

“Over 50 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes since 1990.”

“In Asia, 25 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. In Africa, only six out of 53 states carried out executions in 2006.”

As such, their argument that it is European post-colonialism at work falls flat.

If Cheok and and Vanu Menon wants to further extend their argument that every country should retain the right to decide for themselves if they should be allowed to retain the capital punishment due to their own cultural or unique circumstances, South Africa’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, Desmond Tutu can has more to say, a man who has survived Apartheid and witnessed the atrocities of government sanctioned violence.

In an article for The Guardian, he wrote, ”

Retribution, resentment and revenge have left us with a world soaked in the blood of far too many of our sisters and brothers. The death penalty is part of that process. It says that to kill in certain circumstances is acceptable, and encourages the doctrine of revenge. If we are to break these cycles, we must remove government-sanctioned violence… Everywhere experience shows us that executions brutalise both those involved in the process and the society that carries them out. Nowhere has it been shown that the death penalty reduces crime or political violence. In country after country, it is used disproportionately against the poor or against racial or ethnic minorities. It is often used as a tool of political repression. It is imposed and inflicted arbitrarily. It is an irrevocable punishment, resulting inevitably in the execution of people innocent of any crime. It is a violation of fundamental human rights.

The debate on the death penalty, contrary to what Cheok and and Vanu Menon has tried to portray, is not an argument about European or Western values imposing on others; or even a matter for sovereign states to decide on. It is a fundamental human rights issue. One that violates the most basic human right – the right to life.



1. EU under fire at U.N. death penalty debate, Reuters, Claudia Parsons, November 14 2007

2. UN panel adopts resolution calling for moratorium on death penalty, AFP, November 16 2007

3. UN General Assembly set to endorse call for halt to executions, Amnesty International, IOR 40/024/2007 (Public), 6 November 2007

4. The doctrine of revenge, The Guardian, Desmond Tutu, November 13, 2007


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