There is never a “right” time to be humane

Some of the comments from readers on this article I wrote for Yahoo do not surprise me. They call on the Workers’ Party to focus on “more important issues” than the issue of the mandatory death penalty highlighted in the article. They cite concerns over housing, public transportation, jobs, etc as being “more important” than sending someone to death.

It’s a little disconcerting to read or hear fellow human beings say things like this.

The campaign to abolish the death penalty has been going on for more than 10 years, with the Think Centre, the Singapore Anti-death Penalty Campaign, Maruah, the late JB Jeyaretnam, the Singapore Democratic Party, Second Chances, The Online Citizen, and various other parties campaigning for it.

And the excuse (this is really what it is) that there are “more important things” to deal with is as old as the campaign, probably even older. 

To those who say we have “more important things” to deal with, there is never and there will never be an appropriate time to raise the issue of the death penalty because we will always have “other more important things” to deal with. Let me put it bluntly: life will always – always – throw challenges at us, at all time.

This excuse of having “more important things to do” was also given in 2009. And in 2010. And in 2011. Now, in 2012.

It is an easy excuse to give because those who are sentenced to death are out of sight, so they are out of mind. See no evil, hear no evil. Hang them – but don’t let me know. That seems to be the stance.

And so, we all cry out for a more compassionate society. We beat our collective chests for a more humane society. We scream out for fairness. For justice which scales are in balance. We vow and pledge to value human life. Indeed, we applaud and quote and even take as role models those who stand up and stand for the value of human life – those whom we see in books, and in magazines, on TV, and elsewhere. We pretend to revere these heroes, and they truly are heroes.

Yet, when it comes to ourselves, when the state is sending people to death under a system which is flawed, we say, “Please don’t mind the criminals. We have more important things to do.”

It reminds me – rather eerily – of what former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said, almost word for word, when he was asked about the number of people put to death in Singapore.

“In September 2003, in an interview with the BBC, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong was questioned about the number of people executed in 2003. He stated that he believed it was “in the region of about 70 to 80”. When asked why he did not know the precise number he said, “I’ve got more important things to worry about.” 

Sometimes, we do not only do something because people support it.

We do it because it is the right thing to do.

And repealing the mandatory death penalty is the right thing to do.

Even the Workers’ Party and the Law Society are of the same opinion.

I won’t go into why the mandatory death penalty is entirely flawed, as this has been the subject I – and many others – have written about already. (For those who are interested, perhaps a Google search will suffice for now.)

At the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves what kind of society we want. And the manner by which we send someone to his or her death speaks a lot about this.

Do give it some thought.

And really, there is never a “right” time to be humane.


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