10 November 2008
Death penalty in Viet Nam – proposed reforms a welcome step towards abolition

Execution by firing squad in Viet Nam, ©PrivateA former treasurer of a local post office in the Bac Lieu province of Viet Nam is facing a death sentence on charges of embezzlement. Tang Thi Ba was sentenced to death on 29 May on for embezzling 15 billion Vietnamese dong (just over US$900,000). She had been arrested in December 2006 and admitted the charges in court.

The prosecutors sought a life sentence, but the court sentenced her to death because of the amount of money involved. On 29 August, the court of appeals upheld Tang Thi Ba’s death sentence. Her final recourse is now appealing to the President for commutation of the sentence.

The death penalty may be imposed for 29 offences in Viet Nam’s Penal Code. These offences include economic crimes, such as fraud, embezzlement, smuggling, counterfeiting and offering bribes; manufacturing, concealing and trafficking in narcotic substances.

According to media reports Viet Nam has executed at least three people this year, and at least 28 people have been sentenced to death. However, executions are rarely reported and the actual number is believed to be much higher. In 2007, more than 25 people were executed.

International standards for fair trial are not followed in practice in Viet Nam. Legal counsel is often assigned to defendants at the last minute, allowing little pre-trial preparation. The defence is not always allowed to call or question witnesses, and private consultation with counsel may be limited. In many cases, all the defence counsel can do is plead for clemency.

On 3 November, the government presented amendments on some clauses of the Penal Code. In the amended law, the government proposed to remove the death sentence on offences of embezzlement, bribery and production of fake goods (including fake food, medicine), amongst others, which would reduce the number of capital offences to 12.

According to the government, to fight against corruption effectively, it is important to combine and act on several measures simultaneously instead of meting out a death sentence.

Amnesty International is calling on the Vietnamese authorities to carry out the proposed reforms and introduce a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty

"Viet Nam abstained in December 2007 when the UN General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a resolution on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty," said Martin Macpherson from Amnesty International. "Amnesty International welcomed the fact that Viet Nam didn't vote against the resolution.

"The resolution expresses deep concern about the application of the death penalty. It calls on states that still maintain it to respect international safeguards guaranteeing the rights of those facing the death penalty, to reduce the number of offences for which the death penalty may be imposed and to establish a moratorium on executions with the view to abolishing the death penalty.

"A second resolution on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty will be introduced at this 63rd session. The resolution will be put to a vote at the Third Committee around 18 November. Amnesty International calls on Viet Nam to join with the majority of countries in the world in voting in favour of a moratorium."

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Abolish the death penalty

Dear President,
I am writing to you to ask you not to allow the execution of Tang Thi Ba, a former treasurer of a local post office in Bac Lieu province. She was sentenced to death on 29 May 2008 on charges of embezzling 15 billion Vietnamese dong (just over USD 900,000).
Your government has proposed ending the use of the death penalty for crimes such as that of Tang Thi Ba. I call on you to take immediate action to save her life and the lives of others facing the death penalty.
I call on your government to go further than the current proposals and abolish the death penalty.
The death penalty violates the right to life. It is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. It has no place in a modern criminal justice system. An execution, just like torture, involves a deliberate assault on a prisoner. Even so-called "humane" methods such as lethal injection can entail excruciating suffering.
Capital punishment is irrevocable. All judicial systems make mistakes, and as long as the death penalty persists, innocent people will be executed. It is also discriminatory and is often used disproportionately against the poor, the powerless and the marginalized.
The death penalty does not deter crime more than other punishments. In Canada, for example, the homicide rate has fallen by 40 per cent since 1975; the death penalty was abolished for murder in 1976.
On 18 December 2007, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 62/149 endorsing the call for a worldwide moratorium on executions. The resolution was adopted by an overwhelming majority of 104 UN member states in favour, 54 countries voted against and 29 abstentions. I welcome the fact that Viet Nam abstained during the vote rather than vote against.
Another resolution on the death penalty will be presented next week at the UN General Assembly on the implementation of the 2007 UNGA resolution 62/149. The resolution will be voted at the Third Committee in November and endorsed by the Plenary in December.
As of 10 October 2008, 137 countries in the world have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Viet Nam could be the next country to join this global move towards abolition.
I urge you to take all the necessary steps within your power to establish a moratorium on executions in Viet Nam, with a view to abolishing the death penalty as provided by the UN General Assembly resolution 62/149 and to commute Tang Thi Ba’s death sentence.

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