Serious setback: Singapore breaks moratorium on death penalty

The ICJ condemns the execution of Tan Hai Liang and Foong Chee Peng in Singapore today. By executing the two men, Singapore breaks the moratorium it has respected since 2011.

This is a serious setback to its compliance with calls from the international community to take steps towards abolishing the death penalty, the ICJ says.

Tan Hai Liang, 36, and Foong Chee Peng, 48, were both convicted of trafficking a controlled drug, an offence under the Misuse of Drugs Act. They were executed today at the Changi Prison Complex in Singapore.

“This is a serious setback not only for Singapore but also for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Singapore is clearly defying the global trend,” said Sam Zarifi, Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific of the ICJ. “This is unfortunate since it was hoped that Singapore would set the example in the ASEAN on amending its laws towards the abolition of the death penalty.”

In July 2011, Singapore imposed a moratorium on executions so that it could conduct a thorough review of the mandatory death penalty regime in its laws.

Under the Misuse of Drugs Act, mandatory death penalty is imposed if found guilty of possessing a requisite quantity of drugs.

Amendments were made on the law so that courts have the discretion to impose life imprisonment instead of capital punishment if the convicted person is found to be “only a drug courier” or “suffering from such an abnormality of mind that it substantially impaired his mental responsibility for committing the offence.”

Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs, in a statement issued today, said that these amendments in the mandatory death penalty rule in the Misuse of Drugs Act were thoroughly debated within the Parliament before being approved and passed in November 2012 and became operational in 1 January 2013.

The changes in the law meant that those awaiting punishment under the Misuse of Drugs Act or the Penal Code had the option to elect to be considered for re-sentencing under the new rules.

The Central Narcotics Bureau claim that Tang Hai Liang and Foong Chee Peng chose not to be part of the re-sentencing process.

Among member states of the ASEAN, only the Philippines has ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (OP2). The protocol provides for the total abolition of the death penalty.

Cambodia has not ratified the OP2, but has abolished the death penalty.

Laos, Myanmar, and Brunei have not carried out the death penalty in several years.

Aside from Singapore, four other ASEAN Member States still retain the death penalty: Malaysia, Viet Nam, Thailand and Indonesia.

In November 2012, the UN General Assembly issued a resolution calling on all Member States to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.

The resolution was adopted by an overwhelming number of votes from Member States.

The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, has emphasized that “the death penalty should be eliminated for crimes such as economic crimes and drug-related offences.”

The Special Rapporteur likewise emphasized that mandatory death penalty is prohibited, even for the most serious crimes.

The ICJ also notes with concern that the method used to execute Tan Hai Liang and Foong Chee Peng was hanging, which the UN Human Rights Committee had suggested that as a matter of law, violate the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

“At least 150 countries have now either abolished the death penalty or instituted an official or unofficial moratorium. There is a growing understanding around the world that the death penalty is a violation to the right to life and an unacceptable assault on rights and dignity,” said Sam Zarifi.

The ICJ strongly encourage Singapore to reinstate its moratorium on executions and take steps towards taking all necessary measures to abolish the death penalty.


Emerlynne Gil, ICJ International Legal Advisor for Southeast Asia, tel. +66840923575, email: emerlynne.gil(a)



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