STATEMENT BY AMB VANU GOPALA MENON PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE OF SINGAPORE TO THE UN AT THE 3RD COMMITTEE MEETING ON AGENDA ITEM 70 (b)
When it was first created, the 3rd Committee was envisaged as a forum for countries to identify common objectives and to work together to achieve these goals. My delegation has noted with increasing concern how the Committee has over the years moved away from its original objectives to what it is today - a forum for recrimination and self-righteous morality that brooks no dissent. The Committee has become a forum where some countries, under the justification of human rights, use the General Assembly to impose their views and systems of justice on other countries. Any country that disagrees with these countries or chooses to hold its own views is denigrated.
2 My delegation is extremely disappointed, but hardly surprised, that the European Union has once again decided to introduce a resolution on the death penalty. Delegations will recall that the last time the EU tried to foist such a resolution on this Committee was in 1999. Delegations may also recall how divisive this experience was. The sponsors of this draft resolution are certainly entitled to their views on the death penalty. Singapore understands and respects the position of countries which oppose the death penalty as a matter of principle. That is their prerogative. It appears, however, that these countries are incapable of extending the same courtesy to countries that have chosen to retain the death penalty. My delegation would like to remind this Committee that capital punishment is not prohibited under international law. Yet it is clear that the sponsors of this draft resolution have decided that there can only be one view on capital punishment, and that only one set of choices should be respected. Surely democracy, which many delegations here profess to practice, is not just about imposing one point of view and brooking no dissent?
3 The proponents of this draft resolution claim that capital punishment is a violation of international human rights standards. It is not. The proponents cite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and its article on the "right to life". But, the UDHR does not forbid the use of the death penalty. In fact, at the time of its adoption in December 1948, a number of EU countries not only had the death penalty on their books but were still implementing it. As recently as 15 years ago, several EU States still had the death penalty on their statutes. This means that they signed the UDHR with the clear understanding that the death penalty was not a human rights issue. This must be an inconvenient fact for the EU. It might explain why the EU is trying to revise history. The fact of the matter is that the EU has simply changed its mind in the intervening years. Now that all in the EU have decided to abolish the death penalty, they expect the rest of us to follow. They are not entitled to demand this, certainly not when the recent debate in Poland on the death penalty has demonstrated that this is still a contested issue within some European societies.
4 If some want to argue that the UDHR is outdated, then let us look at the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 6 (2) states that "in countries which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes in accordance with the law in force at the time of the commission of the crime and not contrary to the provisions of the present Covenant and to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide". The ICCPR could not be clearer. That even the ICCPR allows capital punishment to be imposed (for the most serious crimes) refutes any claim that there is international consensus that capital punishment violates human rights.
5 Singapore is opposed to this draft resolution. For a large number of countries, including Singapore, the application of the death penalty is first and foremost a criminal justice issue, not a human rights issue. It is an important component of the administration of law and our justice system, and is imposed only for the most serious crimes and serves as a deterrent. We have proper legal safeguards in place to prevent any miscarriage of justice. Proponents of abolition focus on the rights of the transgressors. Others prefer to focus on the rights of the victims. Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms not just the right to life, but also the right to security. We believe that it is the right of every citizen in Singapore to live in a safe environment free from criminal threat to their lives and personal safety. Every country has the sovereign right to decide on its own criminal justice system. Each society has to judge for itself what is best for its people according to its particular circumstances.
6 Some in the EU have disingenuously suggested that a moratorium on executions is a "compromise". It is not. It is clear from the draft resolution that the ultimate objective of a moratorium is abolition. Whether the draft resolution is on a moratorium or the abolition of the death penalty, its goal is to impose the views and values of the sponsors on those who hold a different view. If the main proponents of the resolution were truly interested in a compromise, they would respect the views of the retentionist countries even though they disagree with them. They would not claim their own practices as universal, and bludgeon others into accepting their values. The decision to table this draft resolution is a clear indication that its main proponents are not interested in a compromise.
7 The issue before us is not really about the merits or demerits of the death penalty. In the absence of an international consensus, countries on either side of the argument have no right to impose their opinions. Every State has the sovereign right to choose its own political, economic, social and legal systems based on what is in their own best interests. Respect for human rights must include respect for differences. The UN is about diversity. But tolerance for diversity cannot only be restricted to positions where one agrees. Singapore respects the decision of other countries to abolish the death penalty or impose a moratorium. We do not seek to impose our views on others. All we ask is for the same respect to be extended to us.