SOUTHEAST ASIA: Execution of drug traffickers does not control the trade

'Tackling the illicit drug trade in Southeast Asia is a huge challenge for governments in the region. But it will not be solved by executing drug traffickers and wasting more human life,' Amnesty International said.

'There is no evidence that the use of the death penalty has ever had an effect on curbing the drug trade. The death penalty has a brutalising effect on all concerned and does not make up for the loss of life caused by drug traffickers.'

Over the last month, Amnesty International has written to the governments of Thailand, Laos and Viet Nam about the execution of drug traffickers.

Following a Thai government announcement that it would speed up the execution of drug traffickers, five people were executed in April and six more executions are imminent. Thai authorities invited journalists to observe the execution process.

Executions in Viet Nam are only rarely publicly reported. However, Amnesty International did receive reports that Nguyen Thu Tam and Pham Ngoc Son were executed for trafficking heroin in Ho Chi Minh City on Friday 13 April. More than 90 people were sentenced to death for drug offences in 2000.

In China, the death penalty is routinely used against convicted drug traffickers. Through monitoring publicised records, which represent a fraction of whole picture, Amnesty International recorded at least 483 death sentences passed in 1999 for drug smuggling, trading, trafficking, transporting or manufacturing. This represents the highest number of sentences for any single type of crime.

On April 10, the National Assembly of Laos approved an amendment to legislation which will for the first time provide for the death penalty for drug trafficking and possession offences. Possession of more than 500 grams of heroin, more than three kilograms of methamphetamines, and more than 10 kilograms of precursor chemicals used in the production of illegal drugs will become capital offences.

The government of Burma also sentences people to death for drug trafficking. Two Singaporean nationals were sentenced to death last year.

Amnesty International understands that governments have a responsibility to deal effectively with serious crime. Governments often justify their use of the death penalty saying public opinion favours it. However, no studies on the use of the death penalty have found that it has a deterrent effect.

Imposition of the death penalty is especially dangerous when trials are not fair , and may result in fatal miscarriages of justice. This risk is compounded by the use of torture and ill-treatment by police to coerce confessions.

United Nations representatives at the meeting should reiterate the organization's call for an end to executions for drug-related offences.

'More than half the world's countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Amnesty International is hoping that governments in Southeast Asia will join the majority and demonstrate a respect for human life by ending executions of drug traffickers,' the organization said.

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