As I mentioned in past comments, the debate over the death penalty can generally be fought on two grounds:
1) Ethical reasons.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty worldwide in all cases without exception. The death penalty is a violation of one of the most fundamental of human rights: the right to life. It is the premeditated and cold-blooded killing of a human being by the state in the name of justice. It is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. There is no escaping the risk of error which can lead to the execution of an innocent of an innocent person.
- Continue reading the full report.
I suspect that people's ethical reasons for or against the death penalty are as diverse as religion itself. I wish to focus however on point 2 but I will reiterate this from the Amnesty report; that the death penalty, no matter how efficient, is not a fail-safe penalty like any other but shares one distinct and unique difference. It cannot be rectified should the convicted person be found innocent at a later time, whether it's 1 year or one decade later. History does show that people have been released from prison after serving up to decades of their lives in captivity after being cleared of a crime, usually when new evidence surfaces later on. And it will be these people that ultimately pay the price of life for the death penalty. Even with modern forensic techniques, science is is still a fallible process. The legal system is a fallible process. And it would be a grave mistake to assume we have a 100% efficient forensic and legal system.
2) The efficiency of the death penalty.
Admittedly, the lack of information released by the government is a double-edged sword. But it is helpful in downplaying what officials are so haste to claim for which they have no supporting evidence of. The Amnesty report shows the official execution rates between 1991 - 2003. The total number of executions between 1991 and 2oo3 is 408. The lowest number of executions being 6 in 1991 and the highest of 76 in 1994. The average is about 40 executions per year or 13.57 executions per capita (per 1 million people). Despite the fluctuation in execution rates in a period of just a little over a decade, Singapore is still believed to maintain the highest execution rate per capita in the world. This even exceeds that of Saudi Arabia which is well-known for its strict Sharia laws.
According to the UN Secretary-General's quinquennial report on capital punishment (UN document: E/CN.15/2001/10, para. 68), for the period 1994 to 1999 Singapore had a rate of 13.57 executions per one million population, representing by far the highest rate of executions in the world. This is followed by Saudi Arabia (4.65), Belarus (3.20), Sierra Leone (2.84), Kyrgyzstan (2.80), Jordan (2.12) and China (2.01). The largest overall number of executions for the same period took place in China, followed in descending order by the Islamic Republic of Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United States of America, Nigeria and Singapore.
- Amnesty International Press Release
Note the difference between executions per capita and number of executions. It is important to distinguish the two and I often hear people confusing the two. While Singapore ranks first in the former, it ranks 6th, just behind the United States of America, in the total number of prisoners executed between 1994 and 1999. That's pretty impressive for a country with only a fraction of the American population, don't you think?
Coming back to the original question, we can define efficiency of the death penalty by the increase/decrease of associated crime per capita before and after the implementation of the death penalty. Any competent statistical analyst would automatically reject conclusions meriting the death penalty as a factor for a particular effect on crime rates without this data. Hence the 'double-edged sword' effect where one cannot claim the death penalty has been ineffective equally as much as it has been effective. Officials are always keen to flaunt this groundless conclusion that the death penalty has been an effective deterent against crime without actually presenting any statistical data. And it is THIS myth that I wish to demystify. It is a widely-spread belief amongst Singaporeans, presumbably just because government officials keep reiterating this whenever the mass media makes mention of the death penalty. It is an instinctive logical reaction to say that the death penalty is a sucessful deterent against crime. It makes sense that anyone afraid of death would do wise to avoid comitting the crime. But people are complex creatures and often it isn't the case. Look at newspaper articles of recent criminals sentenced to death. How many look like they have a death wish on their mind? Crimes are equally complex and diverse.
Some such as Sporescores on this thread at Mr Wang's blog thinks that surely there must be better studies done in the U.S. for example that show if the death penalty is effective or not. The answer is yes. In fact, anyone who is willing to spend some time on the Amnesty International website will find much related information on the death penalty in other countries. In some instances, crime rates increased after the implementation of the death penalty! Our admission that we don't know why this happens, a contradiction to our logic mentioned above, while people can still justify the death penalty is complete ignorance of these unanswered questions. But the importanted thing to understand is that the effects of the death penalty in one country can vary in another. For a more conclusive result, what could be more accurate than data of Singapore's own execution rates before and after the implementation of the death penalty? I recommend taking a look at the links at Amnesty USA here:
- The death penalty defies international standards;
- The death penalty claims innocent lives;
- The death penalty is not a deterrent;
- and other closely related articles based on US statistics.
Statistics ultimately lead to truth. And no type of logic or level of IQ can argue otherwise. Regretably, the information currently available is inconclusive and at very best, only shows that claims of the death penalty being efficient is groundless. We have to ask important questions as a responsible society in a developed and civilised country:
1) Is our government doing the right thing by retaining the death penalty, given that Singapore has the highest execution per capita with almost zero probability of successful clemency, and that the death penalty is against international law and human rights, an increasingly important concept in developed nations?
2) What are the consequences we may face tomorrow for failing to grasp human rights today?
3) Are the people well-informed about their government to make the right and responsible decisions? Why is the death penalty somewhat shrouded in secrecy, and not made publicly available via an annual report of some sort?
4) What are the execution rates before and after the implementation of the death penalty? Will the Ministry of Home Affairs release all records of execution history prior to 1991?
Some of these questions might not seem relevant in a nation where people are not given the choice to make changes or abolish the death penalty. But as most Singaporeans often find, they have to chose between the path of ignorance and that of truth. However, those who choose to take the Ostrich path and bury their heads deep in the sand are already condemning such people on death row without "fair trial" on their own accord and maintaining a blind faith in the arm of the law that dishes out death. Remember if not for ethical reasons why the death penalty is dangerous; convicted innocents are bound to happen, forensic evidence is never 100% proof of guilt, the legal system is fallible and the death penalty has not been proven effective as it's been claimed to be.