Letter to ST Forum on “Shanmugam Speaks Out Against Delhi Gang Rape”

We refer to the article “Shanmugam Speaks Out Against Delhi Gang Rape” (30th Dec 2012, The Straits Times). We start by offering our condolences to the victim’s family, and are sorry for the pain and trauma inflicted on her and her boyfriend.

The rapists need to be brought to justice and be suitably punished for their dastardly deeds.

But as a human rights group, MARUAH makes three points in response to the Law Minister’s comments, that tragic incidents like this justify the death penalty.

Firstly, the attempt to justify the death penalty by reference to a crime’s heinousness will inevitably lead to inconsistency in outcomes. For instance, even the most terrible crimes against humanity in recent history, such as those convicted for perpetrating the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia, have not been met with the death penalty.

Secondly, despite the global recognition afforded to the strengths of Singapore’s criminal justice system, we have recently seen cases where persons sentenced to hang were saved at a very late stage by the heroic efforts of their lawyers. This shows that however good a system is, it will never foolproof, and the risk of killing an innocent man will always be present.

Finally, the use of emotive cases like this to justify the death penalty is inherently problematic. What is needed, but has still not taken place in Singapore, is an open, rational and comprehensive discussion on the death penalty and its effectiveness in combating serious crimes.

We believe that India does not need to reflexively adopt the death penalty to combat its problems with violence against women and girls. Instead, it would be better served with effective access to justice, functional law enforcement and prosecutions, timely judicial processes and gender-sensitive public education.

Ms Braema Mathi
President, MARUAH

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