Rejecting Singapore Government's position

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 May, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 May, 1994, 12:00am

I APPEAR not to have made myself clear when asked for my comments on the clemency plea submitted by the British High Commission in Singapore on behalf of Shiu Chi-ho (South China Morning Post, May 10).

What I intended to convey was that the Singapore Government probably wished to establish two principles: that it has the right to determine what penalties to have on its statute books, and the right to enforce such penalties.

Beyond that, I did not think that the Singapore authorities were particularly concerned about the degree of pain inflicted.

Therefore, I thought it likely that Shiu's sentence would be reduced. To a question whether that would leave Singapore's honour intact, I agreed that they would so regard it.

I wish, however, to make it quite clear that I do not accept the position of the Singapore Government.

Under contemporary international law, no country can claim the right to prescribe and impose whatever penalties it chooses to.

For instance, corporal punishment in any form, whether inflicted on adults or juveniles, is now regarded as a ''degrading punishment'' and is, therefore, prohibited not only under human rights treaties, but under customary international law as well.

While some English jurists still believe that caning ''maketh a man'', judges on all continents are now agreed that it is ''an antiquated and inhuman punishment which blocks the way to understanding the pathology of crime''.

African judges of the Supreme Courts of Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia have, in particular, rejected corporal punishment as being a physical assault on the inviolable dignity of a human being, which strips the recipient of his or her self-respect, and disregards both the emotional sensitivity and the rational capacity of the offender.

The fact that this assault is systematically planned, prescribed and executed by an organised society demeans that society and reduces it to the level of the offender.