Singapore Government Press Release
Media Relations Division, Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts,
MITA Building, 140 Hill Street, 2nd Storey, Singapore 179369
Tel: 6837-9666


Executive Summary:

Amnesty International’s (AI) report on the death penalty in Singapore has confused two aspects: AI’s advocacy of the abolition worldwide of the death penalty on the one hand, and its description of the death penalty within the judicial and legal system in Singapore, on the other. AI’s position on the former is well known. However, in its attempt to campaign against the death penalty in Singapore, AI has resorted to grave errors of facts and misrepresentations, which seriously calls into question the credibility of its Report.


AI is entitled to have its own view on the issue of the death penalty, and to campaign against it worldwide. But AI’s position on abolition of the death penalty is by no means uncontested internationally. The issue of the appropriateness of the death penalty is one where there is no international consensus. Many, including Singapore, have determined that it is a necessary punishment for certain offences. Neither do the norms of international law constrain in any way each country’s sovereign right to adopt the use of the death penalty in its criminal justice system.


The death penalty in Singapore: Singapore imposes capital punishment only for the most serious crimes. Mandatory death sentences are prescribed when the crime is so serious that the death penalty is warranted for the commission of the offence, when made out, under any circumstances.


This sends a strong signal to would-be offenders, to deter them from committing crimes such as murder and offences involving firearms, which would severely compromise the safety and security of Singapore. In the case of drug trafficking, the death penalty has deterred major drug syndicates from establishing themselves in Singapore.


The Singapore Government makes no apology for its tough law and order system. Singapore is widely acknowledged to have a transparent and fair justice system and is one of the safest places in the world to live and work in.

Amnesty International’s claim that the death penalty is a violation of international human rights standards


In pursuing its international political agenda "Amnesty International opposes the death penalty worldwide in all cases without exception.", AI makes the sweeping statement that the death penalty is a violation of international human rights standards.


We do not agree with this. There is no international consensus on abolition of the death penalty. Key international instruments that apply to countries with wide divergences in cultures and values do not proscribe the use of the death penalty in their texts. For example, even the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides that the death sentence "may be imposed only for the most serious crimes".


On the two occasions, in 1999 and 1994, that the European Union attempted to get the United Nations General Assembly to adopt a resolution that called for a moratorium on the death penalty with the view towards its abolition, these attempts failed. This was because a large majority of UN member states disapproved of the EU’s attempt to impose their views and systems on the rest of the world. AI refers to the resolutions adopted in the UN Commission on Human Rights that encourage states to stop executions. However, AI failed to say that on at least seven occasions, a significant number of countries disassociated themselves from those resolutions. In 2003, 63 countries, or one-third of the UN’s membership, disassociated themselves.


AI accuses Singapore of "running counter to the worldwide trend towards abolition of the death penalty" . But whether a country should retain or abolish capital punishment is a question for each country to decide, taking into account its own circumstances. Every country has the sovereign right to decide on its own judicial system. We do not live in a homogenous world. Within certain universally agreed broad parameters, international norms call for the respect of differences of views and beliefs. Singapore does not seek to impose its views on others. We only ask that others do not impose their views on us.


Singapore weighs the right to life of the convicted against the rights of victims and the right of the community to live in peace and security. Taking into account our national circumstances, we have made a considered decision to retain the death penalty. It has worked for us, making Singapore one of the safest places in the world to live and work in.



Factual inaccuracies and gross misrepresentation of facts in AI’s account of the death penalty in Singapore.


Singapore recognises that the death penalty is a severe penalty and cannot be remedied in the event of any mistake in its application. That is why we use it only for very serious crimes.


In its efforts to campaign and press its agenda against the death penalty in Singapore, AI has deliberately misrepresented or distorted the facts concerning the death penalty in Singapore. We cite only the following two examples in this summary (but see detailed rebuttal in the attached paper).


"Majority of those executed are foreigners": AI’s allegation that the total percentage of foreign nationals executed in recent years "is very high", and that out of 174 executions recorded by Amnesty International from press reports between 1993 and 2003, "the number of foreigners … is more than half."


This is completely false. Singaporeans, and not foreigners, were the majority of those executed.


"It is mostly the poor, least educated, and vulnerable people who are executed": AI also alleges that the death penalty has been disproportionately imposed on the poorest, least educated and most vulnerable members of society.


This is also not true. Of those executed from 1993 to 2003, 95% were above 21 years of age, and 80% had received formal education. About 80% of those who had been sentenced to capital punishment had employment before their convictions.


To advance its political campaign against the death penalty, it is clear that the AI has chosen to deliberately misrepresent the facts. The Singapore Government has decided to make a detailed rebuttal, to address the misrepresentations and distortions by AI.


. . . . .



Amnesty International’s report,

Singapore – The death penalty: a hidden toll of executions



AI alleges: "… the number of foreign nationals executed in recent years, the total percentage is believed to be very high. Out of 174 executions recorded by Amnesty International from press reports between 1993 and 2003, the number of foreign nationals totals 93, which is more than half. Many of them are believed to have been migrant workers …" (5.1)

Fact: Contrary to AI’s claims, Singaporeans, not foreigners, were the majority of those executed in Singapore. From 1993 to 2003, 64% of those executed were Singaporeans. In the last five years, 73% executed were Singaporeans. Given that one in four residents in Singapore is a foreigner, it is not only false but mischievous to allege that a significant proportion of prisoners executed were foreigners.


AI alleges: "…Studies have shown that the death penalty is disproportionately imposed on the poorest, least educated and most vulnerable members of society …" (2) "…in practice, the death penalty often falls disproportionately and arbitrarily on the most marginalised or vulnerable members of society. They include young people who are just entering adulthood, drug addicts, the poorly educated, the impoverished or unemployed, and migrant workers…" (6.2)

Fact: Again contrary to what AI reports, the death penalty did not fall disproportionately on the "poorest, least educated and most vulnerable members of society". Of those executed from 1993 to 2003, 95% were above 21 years old; and about 80% had received formal education. About 80% of those who had been sentenced to capital punishment had employment before their convictions. (Annex A)

In the six case studies, AI has chosen to only repeat allegations made in defence that had expressly been considered and been rejected by the Courts. In doing so, it has deliberately omitted to mention that the very same allegations had been carefully considered and rejected by the respective Courts, with detailed reasons that are reported and subject to public scrutiny. AI has not dealt with the reasoning of the Courts at all, but has only repeated the allegations in emotional language.


AI alleges: "Official information about the use of the death penalty in Singapore is shrouded in secrecy…" (1)

Fact: For good reasons, Singapore of course does not conduct executions in public. But it is absurd for AI to allege that the "death penalty in Singapore is shrouded in secrecy". Singapore has one of the most fair and transparent legal systems in the world. All judicial decisions involving the death penalty are open to public scrutiny. All trials and appeals (including capital cases) are conducted in public. Indeed, the more newsworthy trials are routinely reported in the local and even international media. AI has, from time to time, sent observers to attend trials in Singapore.

Singapore’s legal and judicial system has consistently been rated highly in international and regional rankings for its integrity and transparency. In the 2003 Asian Intelligence Report of the Political and Economic Risks Consultancy (PERC), based on a survey of expatriates working in Asia, Singapore was ranked top in Asia for the overall integrity and quality of its legal system, a ranking it has held since 1998. In the 2003 World Competitiveness Yearbook published by the Swiss-based International Institute for Management Development (IMD), Singapore’s national legal framework was ranked first, followed by Finland and Hong Kong. Singapore has held this position between 1997-2000 and 2002-2003. Similarly, Singapore’s legal framework maintained its top ranking in the 2003 assessment of the Business Environment Risk Intelligence (BERI).


AI alleges: "…Foreign nationals facing the death penalty are confronted by additional difficulties threatening their right to life and right to a fair trial. For instance, they may not always be familiar with the laws of the country where they are tried, and they may have difficulty understanding the charges against them or participating in the proceedings if facilities for interpretation are inadequate…." (5.1)

Fact: Every individual accused of capital crimes, be he a foreigner or a Singaporean, is represented by lawyers. If the accused is unable to afford a lawyer, the state will appoint not one but two counsels (at no cost to himself) from a panel of private lawyers from the preliminary inquiry through to the trial, the appeal and the clemency petition. If he does not agree to the counsel assigned, he may request for alternative counsel. Trials are conducted in English. If the accused is not familiar with the English language, he will be assigned an interpreter of the language of his choice throughout the trial so that he can understand the proceedings and may instruct his lawyer on any matter as the trial develops.


AI alleges: "There is virtually no public debate about the death penalty in Singapore…. Controls imposed by the government on the press and civil society organisations curb freedom of expression and are an obstacle to the independent monitoring of human rights, including the death penalty…"

Fact: AI’s insinuation that there are not greater public discussions on death penalty in Singapore because the Government "imposes controls which curb freedom of expression" is false. Questions have been raised in Parliament on the death penalty, and the Government has released information on the number of persons executed. But the fact is that the death penalty is not a burning issue in Singapore. Most Singaporeans support the death penalty for serious crimes as it has helped to keep Singapore’s overall crime rate low – at least three ratings reports, Mercer HR Consulting, the World Competitiveness Yearbook and PERC have ranked Singapore as one of the safest places in the world.

The death penalty is a just punishment for those who knowingly and intentionally commit serious crimes, which threaten the lives of others. The death penalty, because of its finality, is more feared than imprisonment as a punishment. It deters some prospective criminals who may not be deterred by the thought of mere imprisonment. AI is obviously trying to drum up a campaign against the death penalty. The proper way to change the law is through the constitutional route. If a person wants to advocate a particular stand, he should campaign on the basis of his platform and get the people of Singapore to vote him into Parliament. But he would not find much support in Singapore.


AI alleges: " ….. mandatory death sentence … imposed for possession of fairly small amounts of drugs….. Amnesty International has recorded a number of executions in Singapore of individuals found in possession of relatively small quantities of drugs …..." (8.2) )

Fact: It is no secret that Singapore considers drug trafficking among the most serious crimes and that given Singapore’s small size and location near the Golden Triangle, views itself as particularly vulnerable to the drug menace. The fact is, Singapore does not mete out the death penalty lightly. The amount of heroin leading to a mandatory death sentence must be more than 15g. This refers to more than 15g of heroin in its pure form, ie dia-morphine. This is equivalent to a slab of approximately 750g of street heroin capable of being made into over 3,700 heroin straws, with a street value of over US$100,000. This is well above the amount of heroin that an addict would normally need for his personal consumption alone. AI may consider this as "fairly small amounts of drugs", but Singapore certainly does not. The death penalty plays a key role in deterring organised drug syndicates from establishing themselves in Singapore and keeps the drug situation under control.


AI alleges: "Scientific studies have consistently failed to find convincing evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other punishments. Criminologists have long argued that the best way to deter crime is to increase the certainty of detection, arrest and conviction. …" (2); "…Observers have drawn attention to the need to combat the social conditions which can give rise to drug abuse and addiction, rather than resorting to executions as a solution…" (8.3) "…despite the use of the death penalty and high execution rates, drug addiction continues to be a problem, particularly among the poorly educated, impoverished, unemployed and young people from broken homes …Those convicted of more minor drug offences also face cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. Persistent or so-called "hardcore" drug addicts who have been admitted more than twice to a drugs rehabilitation centre are treated as criminals and may be imprisoned for up to 13 years and sentenced to caning…" (8.3)

Fact: Drug addicts are not given the death penalty but are instead sent to the Drug Rehabilitation Centres to help them kick their habit and reintegrate them into society. Having tough laws is but one of the pillars of our multi-pronged approach to tackle the drug menace. The other pillars are rehabilitation/aftercare, preventive drug education and enforcement against all who contribute to the drug problem.

Singapore’s holistic approach to tackling the drug problem has worked for Singapore. According to the UN Global Illicit Drug Trends Report 2003, Singapore has among the lowest prevalence of drug abuse across a range of hard and soft drugs. (Annex B) The number of drug abusers arrested has been declining over the years. Recidivism rates of drug addicts have been improving.


AI alleges: "A series of clauses in the Misuse of Drugs Act … contain presumptions of guilt, conflicting with the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and eroding the right to a fair trial.." (1) "…The Misuse of Drugs Act contains a series of presumptions which shift the burden of proof from the prosecution to the accused. … .Amnesty International is gravely concerned that such presumptions erode the right to a fair trial, increasing the risk that an innocent person may be executed …." (8.2)

Fact: The presumption clause in the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) merely presumes that the person had the drug for the purpose of trafficking. The amount prescribed in the presumption clause for trafficking is set at a reasonably high level. In the case of heroin, this is more than 2g of pure heroin, which is equivalent to about 500 heroin straws or over 150 times the average daily dose of a moderate heroin drug abuser. If the drug he possesses exceeds this amount, then he is presumed to have it for the purpose of trafficking rather than for personal consumption.

The presumption clause can be rebutted in court. The prosecution studies every case carefully. There have been cases where the accused was found to possess drugs more than the amount prescribed in the presumption clause, however the prosecution did not proceed against the accused on a capital charge of trafficking as it was not satisfied that the accused was a trafficker. During the trial, the accused person can rebut that the drugs in his possession were not meant for the purpose of trafficking. The court will hear the evidence adduced by both the prosecution and defence, and base its judgement on the evidence presented and not merely because the presumption clause was invoked. Furthermore, if the accused can prove to the court that he is a chronic abuser and would therefore need to be in possession of a greater amount of drugs for his own consumption, the trafficking charge may be reduced to one of possession of a controlled drug, which does not attract the death penalty.


AI alleges: "Further concerns have been expressed that the Misuse of Drugs Act allows for secret evidence from informers to be used during trials. …The use of evidence from anonymous witnesses may render the trial as a whole unfair…." (8.2)


Fact: Information provided by informers is not admissible evidence and the prosecution cannot rely on it to prove the essential elements of the offence. Such information merely provides a lead to the enforcement officers to commence investigations into drug trafficking activities. For the safety of the informer and in order not to compromise the Central Narcotics Bureau’s sources, the identity of the informer is protected under section 23 of the MDA. However, the court may compel full disclosure concerning the informer in certain prescribed circumstances.


AI alleges: " Due to lack of independent inspections of prisons it is difficult to establish the facts about conditions on death row. …Relatives have informed Amnesty International that prisoners under sentence of death are kept in strict isolation in individual cells measuring approximately three square metres….It is believed that they are not permitted to go outside for fresh air or exercise ….About four days before the execution date, as a special concession, prisoners are permitted to watch television or listen to the radio and are given meals of their choice, within the prison’s budget. They are also allowed extra visits from relatives but no physical contact is permitted at any time before the execution…." (6.1)

Fact: Our prison conditions are spartan but adequate. Visiting Justices, who are prominent members of the community, conduct regular unannounced visits to the prison institutions to make sure that prisoners, including those on death row, are not ill-treated.

It is not true that prisoners are not allowed to exercise. All prisoners, including condemned prisoners, are entitled to their daily exercises. In fact, there are two exercise yards dedicated for this use. They are normally allowed to exercise twice a day, half an hour each time, one or two at a time.


AI alleges: "Families of convicts are normally informed of the impending execution dates less than one week beforehand, causing them great anxiety and uncertainty." (6.1)

Fact: Although family members are not with the inmate at the moment of execution, they are informed four days before the executions (for foreigners, the families and embassy will be informed earlier, usually seven to fourteen days) and allowed daily visits lasting up to four hours for each visit during these four days. The execution is carried out in the presence of a Prison medical doctor. Upon request, a priest or a religious minister is allowed to be present, to pray for the person to be executed.


AI alleges: "The provision of mandatory death sentences deprives the courts of the discretion to weigh the evidence in capital cases in order to consider mitigating circumstances. This can result in decisions which are both arbitrary and disproportionate to the circumstances of the case…." (7.1)


Fact: Singapore imposes the death penalty only for the most serious crimes. Mandatory death sentences are prescribed when the crime is so serious that the death penalty is warranted for the commission of the offence under any circumstances. Such mandatory sentences are used to send a strong signal to would-be offenders, to deter them from committing crimes such as murder and offences involving firearms, which would severely compromise the safety and security of Singapore. In the case of drug trafficking, the death penalty has deterred major drug syndicates from establishing themselves in Singapore. Contrary to AI’s claim, there is no arbitrariness in mandatory death sentences. The same penalty is imposed on anyone who commits the offence.

. . . .


\AI – reply to death penalty report

Annex A

Breakdown of Profile by Education

1993 – 2003


Breakdown of Profile by Age Group

1993 – 2003


Breakdown of Profile by Employment

1993 – 2003


Annex B



Extracted below are charts from the UN Global Illicit Drug Trends Report 2003 publication that show the prevalence of opiate, cocaine, cannabis, amphetamine and 'Ecstasy' abuse in Asia-Pacific countries and countries in North America and Western Europe as a percentage of the population aged 15 and above.

Comparing the level of prevalence of drug abuse with other countries helps set the local situation in perspective. In terms of prevalence of all groups of drugs compared below, Singapore fares better than most countries.


Singapore is not included in the above chart as there has been no reported cocaine abuse here in the last 10 years



JAN 04