Today is the 65th year anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR recognises the inherent dignity and inalienable rights of all people, including the right to life. As we celebrate International Human Rights Day, we reaffirm our commitment to promoting and protecting the human rights of those facing the death penalty.
During the last twelve months, we have witnessed important developments in the restriction of the use of the death penalty. In December 2012, 110 states- an unprecedented number- voted in favour of a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty at the United Nations General Assembly. We have also witnessed important legislative reforms, for example in Singapore, where the mandatory death penalty was abolished for certain categories of drug trafficking and homicide offences. The new laws provide judges with a discretion to impose a lesser sentence than the death penalty and provide an opportunity for all those under sentence of death in Singapore (who meet the necessary requirements) to seek a review of their sentences.
Since the introduction of legislative reforms in November 2012, six prisoners in Singapore have had their death sentences reduced to life imprisonment with caning. This includes Yong Vui Kong, a young Malaysian who we have been assisting since 2009. Mr Yong was 19 at the time of his arrest. He was convicted of trafficking 47.27 grams of heroin and the mandatory death penalty was imposed. Having endured four years on death row, on 14th November 2013, Yong Vui Kong’s death sentence was quashed and he was resentenced to life imprisonment and 15 strokes of the cane by the High Court of Singapore.
As we approach a new year, the Death Penalty Project will continue to advance and protect the human rights of those facing the death penalty and to promote the restriction of the death penalty in line with international minimum legal requirements. We will work to highlight miscarriages of justice and breaches of human rights and above all we will seek to save the lives of individuals facing the death penalty who are least able to protect themselves.