M Ravi attends 7th World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Brussels

While two-thirds of the world have already abolished the death penalty, others such as Singapore continue to enforce this barbaric punishment.

In the week of 14 July, it was reported by Malaysian news portals that Singapore had denied 10 presidential clemency appeals, 4 of which were from Malaysians on death row. Singapore swiftly hangs those whose appeals have been denied, and thus the reported 10 who failed in their appeals are expected to face the gallows within weeks. Despite countries such as Singapore’s adherence to the death sentence, the majority of the world’s countries – including all member-states in the European Union – have moved on to alternative sentences, which are regarded as more humane.

From 26 Febraury to 1 March 2019, some 7,200 representatives from 152 countries gathered in Brussels for the 7th World Congress Against The Death Penalty. The event is the biggest in the global abolition movement.

M Ravi was invited to participate in it.

Among the participants were heads of states, parliamentarians, ministries of justice, diplomats, lawyers, activists, and non-governmental organisations. Also present to give testimonies of the effects and their experiences with the death penalty were witnesses such as former death row inmates who were later found innocent of the crime they were sentenced for, and released.

Family members and loved ones of those on death row or who have been executed, also gave intimate and personal accounts of the daily reality of living with the inhumane punishment.

“I was one of those on death row, locked up for a total of 28 years,” said Ndume Olatushani, who spent 20 of those years on death row, for a felony murder he did not commit. He was released in 2012, at the age of 54, after a new trial found evidence of his innocence.

He now campaigns for the abolition of the death penalty.

“As long as we keep applying the death penalty, we will kill innocent people,” he says.

Among the other participants at the Congress was the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty. Its aim “is to strengthen the international dimension of the fight against the death penalty”, a statement from the French-based organisation said.

“The World Coalition gives a global dimension to the sometimes isolated action taken by members on the ground,” it explained. “It complements their initiatives, while constantly respecting their independence.”

The world movement now seeks to involve businesses in the fight for total abolition.

“For the first time, the idea is to endow the field of business with death penalty issues,” says Raphael Chenuil, executive director of the Congress . “The impact of business can apply pressure to these decisions. It happened with lethal injections in the United States with the pharmaceutical industry, it could happen in Brunei against the Sultan’s decision to revive the death penalty for homosexuality.”

“This is why we decided to invite the actors in business to discuss with abolitionists from around the world.”

Pope Francis, in his message to the Congress, says the movement against the death penalty “represents a brave affirmation of the principle of dignity of the human person.”

“We must never give up on the conviction that even those who are guilty of crimes must be given a chance to repent,” the Pope says.

“The death penalty by the state, which is state-engineered murder, is the most pre-meditated murder of its kind,” says M Ravi, whose campaign in Singapore has led to the government making tweaks to allow the courts there more discretion in handing down the death sentence.

However, the changes have been criticised by the anti-death penalty movement, who says that the tweaks are cosmetic.

“Amnesty International’s research revealed that in 2003 and 2004, Singapore had the highest per capita execution rate in the world,” M Ravi says.

“The world has moved on to find better solutions,” he added.

“It is still not satisfactory,” he explains, referring to the 2012 tweaks to the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) which allow the courts more discretion. “It is only a partial development in rectifying the defects in the current death penalty regime but I hope that the momentum will move on towards total abolition.”

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