Republic of Singapore (Singapore)

Official Country Name

Republic of Singapore (Singapore).

Geographical Region

Asia (South-eastern Asia).

Language(s)

English.

Population

4,990,000.

Retentionist or Abolitionist De Facto

Retentionist.

The last executions took place in 2015.

Year of Last Known Execution

2019.

Methods of Execution

Hanging.

Executions can be carried out by hanging.

Number of Individuals On Death Row

There were at least 50 people on death row at the end of 2020.

(This question was last updated on December 1, 2021.).

Annual Number of Reported Executions in Last Decade

Executions in 2021

0.

Executions in 2020

0.

Executions in 2019

2.

Executions in 2018

13.

Executions in 2017

8.

Executions in 2016

According to the Singapore Prison Service, there were 4 executions in 2016. Amnesty International also reported 4 executions in 2016.

Executions in 2015

4.

Executions in 2014

2.

Executions in 2013

0.

Executions in 2012

0.

Executions in 2011

0.

Executions in 2010

At least 1.

Executions in 2009

At least 1.

Executions in 2008

At least 1.

Executions in 2007

At least 2.

Is there an official moratorium on executions?

No.

Does the country’s constitution mention capital punishment?

The Constitution of the Republic of Singapore provides that due process is required prior to depriving an individual of life, implying the death penalty may be constitutional.

Offenses Punishable by Death

Murder.

Murder is punishable by death.

Other Offenses Resulting in Death.

Each offender in a gang-robbery involving five or more persons is punishable by death if any offender commits a murder in committing the robbery. Perjury or intentional use of false information in a capital case, if the accused is executed, is punishable by death.

Terrorism-Related Offenses Resulting in Death.

Intentional murder by use of explosives or other lethal devices in public, government or infrastructure facilities carries the mandatory death penalty.

Terrorism-Related Offenses Not Resulting in Death.

Hostage-taking, if harm is threatened, could be punishable by death. Some potentially terrorism-related arms offenses are punishable by death.

Kidnapping Not Resulting in Death.

Kidnapping is punishable by death if for murder, or putting the victim in danger of murder, or if for ransom, or—when harm is threatened—if for the coercion of third parties.

Drug Trafficking Not Resulting in Death.

Drug trafficking is presumed upon the defendant’s possession of a requisite quantity of drugs. Possession is presumed if the defendant possesses keys to the place or vehicle the drugs were discovered or possesses shipping documentation related to a drug shipment. The burden is on the defendant to overcome the presumption of drug trafficking, for which the death penalty is mandatory. The death penalty is also mandatory for manufacture of illegal drugs.

Economic Crimes Not Resulting in Death.

Arms trafficking is punishable by death.

Treason.

Waging war against Singapore or planning or supporting an offense against the person or sovereignty of the President is punishable by death.

Military Offenses Not Resulting in Death.

Misconduct in action, assisting the enemy or abandonment of a convoy or vessel by an officer or expert, is punishable by death. Mutiny in the face of the enemy carries the mandatory death penalty.

War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide.

Genocide involving the killing of any person carries the mandatory death penalty.

Other Offenses Not Resulting in Death.

-Piracy endangering life carries the mandatory death penalty.
-Calumny or intentional use of false information in a capital case, if the accused is executed, is punishable by death.
-Attempted murder by a convict under a life sentence is punishable by death.
-Potentially, the violation of a condition on remission of punishment could lead to reinstatement of a death penalty.

Comments.

While drug possession is not a capital crime, the discovery of a requisite quantity of drugs in the defendant’s possession results in a presumption of guilt unless the defendant can prove he is innocent of drug trafficking. Possession is presumed if the defendant possesses keys to the place or vehicle the drugs were discovered or possesses shipping documentation related to a drug shipment.

Does the country have a mandatory death penalty?

Singapore's laws maintain the mandatory death penalty for a number of offenses; Singapore's courts have upheld the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking.

Which offenses carry a mandatory death sentence, if any?

Murder.

.

Terrorism-Related Offenses Resulting in Death.

Intentional murder by use of explosives or other lethal devices in public, government or infrastructure facilities carries the mandatory death penalty.

Drug Trafficking Not Resulting in Death.

Drug trafficking is presumed upon the defendant’s possession of a requisite quantity of drugs. Possession is presumed if the defendant possesses keys to the place or vehicle the drugs were discovered or possesses shipping documentation related to a drug shipment. The burden is on the defendant to overcome the presumption of drug trafficking, for which the death penalty is mandatory. The death penalty is also mandatory for manufacture of illegal drugs.

Military Offenses Not Resulting in Death.

Mutiny in the face of the enemy carries the mandatory death penalty.

War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide.

Genocide involving the killing of any person carries the mandatory death penalty.

Other Offenses Not Resulting in Death.

Piracy endangering life carries the mandatory death penalty.

Categories of Offenders Excluded From the Death Penalty

Individuals Below Age 18 at Time of Crime.

.

Pregnant Women.

A woman pregnant at the time of sentencing will have any death sentence reduced to a life sentence.

Intellectually Disabled.

It is a defense in Singapore if “by reason of unsoundness of mind” the defendant is “incapable of knowing the nature of the act, or that he is doing what is either wrong or contrary to law.” It is possible that this applies to people with intellectual disabilities.

A defendant cannot be sentenced to death for drug trafficking, importing drugs, or exporting drugs if the defendant was only a drug courier and proves that “he was suffering from such abnormality of mind (whether arising from a condition of arrested or retarded development of mind or any inherent causes or induced by disease or injury) as substantially impaired his mental responsibility for his acts and omissions.”

Mentally Ill.

Mental illness is a defense to crimes in Singapore where “by reason of unsoundness of mind” the defendant is “incapable of knowing the nature of the act, or that he is doing what is either wrong or contrary to law.” Similarly, involuntary intoxication or intoxication to the point of insanity are defenses.

A defendant cannot be sentenced to death for drug trafficking, importing drugs, or exporting drugs if the defendant was only a drug courier and proves that “he was suffering from such abnormality of mind (whether arising from a condition of arrested or retarded development of mind or any inherent causes or induced by disease or injury) as substantially impaired his mental responsibility for his acts and omissions.”

Offenses For Which Individuals Have Been Executed In the Last Decade

Murder.

Drug Trafficking Not Resulting in Death.

From 2008 to 2018, the majority of executions in Singapore (approximately two-thirds) were related to drug trafficking. The remaining executions were for murder, with the exception of an execution related to the discharge of a firearm.

Have there been any significant published cases concerning the death penalty in national courts?

Yes. One of the most recent highly publicized challenges to a sentence of death involved Van Toung Nguyen, an Australian citizen who received the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking. Nguyen was arrested while passing through Singapore at Singapore’s international airport with heroin and was sentenced to death under Singapore’s Misuse of Drugs Act despite a number of mitigating factors and factors that called into question his criminal responsibility. The Appeals Court upheld the High Court’s conviction and sentence, holding that the mandatory death penalty did not violate Singapore’s Constitution. In reaching its decision, the Appeals Court misstated or failed to address a number of legal concepts and often treated Nguyen’s appeal as an appeal against the death penalty itself, thus failing to provide a coherent legal argument in defense of the actual issue, Singapore’s mandatory death penalty. This case confirms that, presently, no defendant accused of a crime that carries the mandatory death penalty may present mitigating factors or circumstances to receive a reduced sentence. Singaporean courts exercise only limited protection of defendant’s constitutional rights, so as Nguyen illustrates, constitutional challenges to the death penalty may be difficult in Singapore.

In December of 2009 a similar capital defendant, Yong Vui Kong, was granted a stay of execution so that the Court of Appeal could hear his appeal challenging the constitutionality of his mandatory death sentence. The Court of Appeal heard Kong’s appeal against the mandatory death penalty under the Misuse of Drugs Act on March 15, 2010 and rejected his appeal on May 14, 2010.

Does the country’s constitution make reference to international law?

Singapore’s Constitution does not make reference to international human rights law.

ICCPR

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

ICCPR Party?

No.

ICCPR Signed?

No.

Date of Signature

Not Applicable.

Date of Accession

Not Applicable.

First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, Recognizing Jurisdiction of the Human Rights Committee

ICCPR 1st Protocol Party?

No.

ICCPR 1st Protocol Signed?

No.

Date of Signature

Not Applicable.

Date of Accession

Not Applicable.

Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, Toward the Abolition of the Death Penalty

ICCPR 2nd Protocol Party?

No.

ICCPR 2nd Protocol Signed?

No.

Date of Signature

Not Applicable.

Date of Accession

Not Applicable.

ACHR

American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR)

ACHR Party?

ACHR Signed?

Death Penalty Protocol to the ACHR

DPP to ACHR Party?

DPP to ACHR Signed?

ACHPR

African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR)

ACHPR Party?

ACHPR Signed?

Protocol to the ACHPR on the Rights of Women in Africa

ACHPR Women Party?

ACHPR Women Signed?

African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child

ACHPR Child Party?

ACHPR Child Signed?

Arab Charter on Human Rights

Arab Charter on Human Rights

Arab Charter Party?

Arab Charter Signed?

Comments and Decisions of the U.N. Human Rights System

A review of the U.N.’s Singapore resource at http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/SGIndex.aspx indicated there are no decisions or conclusions of the Human Rights Committee on Singapore, and this will remain unchanged until Singapore joins the ICCPR or Optional Protocol.

Comments and Decisions of Regional Human Rights Systems

A Universal Periodic Review of human rights in Singapore is pending for 2011.

The UN Special Rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions has critiqued Singapore’s application of the mandatory death penalty as inconsistent with international standards, cruel and unusual and arbitrary because it does not permit the consideration of mitigating factors. In addition, the Special Rapporteur has critiqued inadequacies in legal procedure leading to capital convictions and confirmation of convictions upon appeal. As noted by the Special Rapporteur, Singapore’s replies to these critiques have been unresponsive.

A Human Rights Council summary of information submitted by an NGO indicates that migrant workers from Indonesia may face the death penalty in Singapore.

In January 2007, the Special Rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions called for Singapore to halt the execution of a Nigerian national. The individual was sentenced to death for drug trafficking, but many, including the trial judge, accepted that there was no direct evidence the defendant knew that he was carrying heroin.

Availability of Lawyers for Indigent Defendants at Trial

The Law Society of Singapore—an independent statutory body charged with providing legal assistance to indigents—is not permitted to provide legal assistance to capital defendants. Instead, the Supreme Court determines whether to appoint two court-chosen attorneys for indigent capital defendants.

Availability of Lawyers for Indigent Defendants on Appeal

An indigent capital defendant’s two Supreme Court-appointed attorneys remain with him through his final appeal, and possibly through the clemency process.

Quality of Legal Representation

Singapore’s attorneys are generally thought to be of reasonably high quality, and top attorneys in Singapore are able to speak out against the mandatory death penalty, although there are reports that a recent book on the death penalty by Alan Shadrake has earned some backlash. In practice, the statutory presumption of guilt and low evidentiary standards for prosecutors for certain capital offenses may undermine the relevance of available, high-quality representation in Singapore.

Appellate Process

The High Court tries capital cases, and the defendant or Public Prosecutor may appeal an acquittal or conviction or sentence or both to the Court of Appeal within 14 days of the High Court’s decision. The Court of Appeal may hear an appeal and consider law, fact from the proceedings below, and additional facts. Or, the Court of Appeal may reject an appeal on the grounds that it raises no questions of law and the High Court’s factual findings were adequately supported by evidence.

Clemency Process

After an unsuccessful appeal in a capital case, the High Court judge who tried the case and the Chief Justice or presiding judge of the Court of Appeals must send reports to the Attorney General. The Attorney General must then submit those reports with his opinion to the Cabinet so that the Cabinet can advise the President whether to exercise mercy in a case. The president may pardon the offender or commute his sentence, and may also grant reprieve or respite.

Availability of jury trials

No.

Systemic Challenges in the Criminal Justice System

While sources indicate that defendants in Singapore generally enjoy the presumption of innocence for some crimes, in practice defendants facing capital drug charges do not enjoy any presumption of innocence. Instead, the Misuse of Drugs act dictates that the court presume a defendant’s drug possession upon a minimal showing of possession, custody or control, dictates that the court presume a defendant in possession of a low requisite quantity of drugs is a drug trafficker, and mandates the death penalty for drug traffickers. At every point, the burden is on the defendant to prove those presumptions incorrect, so capital drug defendants facing the mandatory death penalty are presumed guilty in Singapore. Historically, a significant number of executions in Singapore have been for drug convictions.

Where Are Death-Sentenced Prisoners incarcerated?

Male and female death row prisoners are housed in separate prisons at Singapore’s new Changi Prison Complex.

Description of Prison Conditions

In a report that may be outdated due to the demolition of the old Changi Prison and construction of the new Changi Prison Complex, Amnesty International indicated that death row inmates are kept in strict isolation in cells that are about ten square feet, contain the inmates’ toilets, and lack bedding. Inmates are not generally permitted to go outside for fresh air or exercise, can view television or listen to the radio only on special occasions—such as in proximity to their executions—and have extremely limited visitation rights. Some current information indicates that Singapore’s prisons are generally up to international standards, are filled to slightly below capacity, and have permitted consular access to foreign inmates while prohibiting access by human rights monitors.

Foreign Nationals Known to Be on Death Row

Yes. Some statistics indicate that from 25% to 50% of executions in Singapore are of foreign nationals, and this may indicate that foreign nationals compose a significant fraction of inmates on death row. A number of foreign nationals on death row may be poorly educated resident migrant workers. The most current sources indicate that an Australian, Malaysians, Thais, Indonesians and individuals of other nationalities are on death row in Singapore.

What are the nationalities of the known foreign nationals on death row?

The most current sources indicate that an Australian, Malaysians, Thais, Indonesians and individuals of other nationalities are on death row in Singapore.

Women Known to Be on Death Row

Yes.

Juvenile Offenders Known to Be on Death Row

According to the Criminal Procedure Code, an individual under the age of 18 at the time of a capital offense cannot be sentenced to death. Reports do not indicate that, in practice, Singapore deviates from that standard.

Racial / Ethnic Composition of Death Row

The most current sources indicate that an Australian, Malaysians, Thais, Indonesians and individuals of other nationalities are on death row in Singapore. About a quarter of Singapore’s population consists of resident foreign nationals; a number of foreign nationals on death row may be poorly educated resident migrant workers; and executions of foreigners probably represent a larger fraction than 25%. A Human Rights Council summary of information submitted by an NGO indicates that migrant workers from Indonesia may face the death penalty in Singapore. There could be some de facto discrimination in application of the death penalty.

Recent Developments in the Application of the Death Penalty

In important cases challenging the application of the death penalty, Singapore’s courts have upheld the mandatory death penalty for non-violent drug trafficking, preserving the legal status quo. However, while Amnesty International reported 174 executions from 1993 to 2003, significantly fewer executions have been reported in more recent years—4 in the last three years. Among other things, this could reflect a lack of transparency in the reporting of executions, or it could reflect a trend towards fewer executions.

Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution

2020 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution

2018 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution

2018 Cosponsor

No.

2018 Vote

Against.

.

2018 Signed the Note Verbale of Dissociation

Yes.

2016 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution

2016 Cosponsor

No.

2016 Vote

Against.

.

2016 Signed the Note Verbale of Dissociation

Yes.

2014 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution

2014 Cosponsor

No.

2014 Vote

Against.

.

2014 Signed the Note Verbale of Dissociation

Yes.

2012 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution

2012 Cosponsor

No.

2012 Vote

Against.

.

2012 Signed the Note Verbale of Dissociation

Yes.

2010 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution

2010 Cosponsor

No.

2010 Vote

Against.

.

2010 Signed the Note Verbale of Dissociation

Yes.

2008 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution

2008 Cosponsor

No.

2008 Vote

Against.

.

2008 Signed the Note Verbale of Dissociation

Yes.

2007 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution

2007 Cosponsor

No.

2007 Vote

Against.

.

2007 Signed the Note Verbale of Dissociation

Member(s) of World Coalition Against the Death Penalty

Think Centre
Mr. Sinapan Samydorai
Director
P.O. Box 640 Teban Garden Post Office
916002 Singapore, Singapore
Tel: +65 94 79 19 06
Fax: +65 64 25 07 09
thinkcentre@hotmail.com
www.thinkcentre.org.

Other Groups and Individuals Engaged in Death Penalty Advocacy

Reprieve
PO Box 72054
London EC3P 3BZ
United Kingdom
Tel 020 7553 8140
Fax 020 7553 8189
info@reprieve.org.uk
http://www.reprieve.org.uk.

Where are judicial decisions reported?

The website of the Supreme Court, http://app.supremecourt.gov.sg/default.aspx?pgID=1, could provide access to capital cases in the first instance (High Court division) or on appeal (Court of Appeal). However, access to cases is limited on that site.

The Singapore Academy of Law publishes a daily-updated Singapore Law Watch that tracks key cases and decisions: http://www.singaporelawwatch.sg/remweb/comm/urjfeed/index.jsp.

Finally, if a case name or party is known, opinions may be available by a search of the following website: http://www.singaporelaw.sg.

It may sometimes be necessary to obtain an opinion from an interested party who has retained it. NYU School of Law maintains a website, http://www.nyulawglobal.org/globalex/Singapore.htm, where a researcher could determine how to obtain any accessible case law.

Helpful Reports and Publications

Amnesty Intl., The Death Penalty: A Hidden Toll of Executions, ASA 36/001/2004, Jan. 15, 2004. Note that this 2004 resource may be out of date with respect to certain information it contains.

Additional notes regarding this country

Some commentaries indicated that Singapore’s drug laws in practice target drug mules and not any leadership of drug trafficking rings. This may be an area of interest for research.