I. DEGRADING TREATMENT OR PUNISHMENT
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone document in the history of human rights which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948.
It established, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected — a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations.
Article 5 of the UDHR states:
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Amnesty International’s 2013 Annual Report stated the following:
Singapore took steps to roll back the mandatory death penalty, but [laws] on arbitrary detention and judicial caning remained.
Judicial caning — a practice amounting to torture or other ill-treatment — continued as a punishment for a wide range of criminal offences.
Source: AI Annual Report 2013 (PDF)
In Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei, healthy males under 50 years of age can be sentenced to a maximum of 24 strokes of the rattan cane on the bare buttocks; the punishment is mandatory for many offences, mostly violent or drug crimes, but also immigration violations. The punishment is applied to both foreigners and locals.
It seems to take a certain lack of empathy to uphold judicial caning as something which doesn’t violate Article 5 of the UDHR.
I have gathered a few quotations from around the web on the severity of this method of corporal punishment.
(1) “Singapore canings are brutal. A martial artist strikes the offender’s bare buttocks with a half-inch rattan cane moistened to break the skin and inflict severe pain. The loss of blood is considerable and often results in shock. Corporal punishment is not necessary to achieve public order, even in Singapore. Other countries do not employ corporal punishment, yet their streets are relatively free of random violence. There are also principled reasons for opposing corporal punishment.”
(~ Jerome H. Skolnick, LA Times)
(2) “Could it be that unkindness is all that [people] see from leaders and they therefore equate that with power over others? Rather like abused children who become abusers themselves, abused citizens are just as likely to do the same. It is totally weird logic to say that violence in the form of draconian laws is the only way to ensure stability.”
(~ Marina Mahathir)
(3) “No matter how heinous the crime, you do not descend to the level of barbarity of the perpetrator. . .An eye for an eye is ancient philosophy replaced by more enlightened ideas and ideals, discarded by civilized societies long ago. Caning is mutilation. Mutilation is wrong. It is barbaric. You do not overcome barbarism by descending to barbarism.”
(~ Richard at The Peking Duck)
(4) “Ravi said that academic consensus has conclusively proved, contrary to what the government claimed, that judicial caning has little to no effect on deterrence.”
(~ Ariffin Sha, TOC)
(5) “State-employed doctors also play an integral role in caning. They examine victims and certify their fitness to be caned. When victims lose consciousness during caning, they revive them so the punishment can continue. After caning, some victims suffer long-term physical disabilities.”
(~ Torture in widespread caning)
(6) “The role that doctors play in facilitating deliberate pain and injury through caning is absolutely contrary to international medical ethics. Instead of treating the victims, doctors are assisting in their torture and ill-treatment.”
(~ Sam Zarifi, A Blow to Humanity)
(7) “Doctors are duty bound to ‘do no harm’. . .We will support all doctors who refuse to participate in any way as witnesses and medical examiners whenever the state carries out an execution or judicial caning. Let not the government say that it is carrying out all these inhuman and inhumane practices on behalf of the people and with their support. It is certainly not done in my name.”
(~ Dr. Albert Lim Kok Hooi, Malaysian Physicians for Social Responsibility)
(8) “Caning used to be reserved for violent offenders, but Singapore’s dominant political leader Lee Kuan Yew extended caning to cover vandalism during an epidemic of political graffiti from the opposition. I know personally of people who prefer to serve a longer term of imprisonment than to undergo the sentence of caning.”
(~ Francis Seow, former Solicitor General of Singapore | NPR Radio 1994)
(9) “He’ll be caned. Who cares? Michael Fay faces a humiliating and agonising caning in Singapore, and many of his fellow Americans think he deserves everything that’s coming to him. Peter Pringle argues that crime has distorted a nation’s perception of human rights.”
(~ The Independent UK, April 1994)
(10) “I was told by some of the inmates that the screams of the victims after each stroke of the whip makes one lose all appetite for food. Caning in Singapore is a barbaric act.”
(~ Chee Soon Juan, Pg-257 of Democratically Speaking)
(11) “In 2012 the courts sentenced 2,500 persons to judicial caning, and 2,203 caning sentences were carried out; including 1,070 foreigners caned for committing immigration offenses.”
Note: According to those numbers, this amounts to an average of ~42 people caned per week.
(~ Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor: Singapore Report 2013)
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III. FUNDAMENTALLY CIVILIZED
For some contrast — this is how a country like Norway handles crime:
(1) “Norway tries to address the causes of criminal behavior. . .I do feel that it is better to prevent future crimes by solving the underlying issues.”
(~ Comment by kraznodar)
(2) “Norway no longer has the death penalty and considers prison more a means for rehabilitation than retribution. . .Bjorn Magnus Ihler, who survived the Utoya shootings, said that Norway’s treatment of Mr. Breivik was a sign of a fundamentally civilized nation.”
(~ Norway Mass Killer Gets the Maximum: 21 Years, NY Times)
(3) “Treating drug addicts like medical patients rather than criminals is not only more humane, but more effective and cheaper. Maybe we should broaden that logic to include treating prisoners as humanely as possible as well.”
(~ Erik Kain, Forbes)
(4) Under the c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment section in the 2013 State.gov report on the human rights situation in Norway:
“In May two Oslo police officers were filmed examining a suspected drug dealer’s mouth and throat with a thin telescoping metal baton. In response to media reports and inquiries from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the Oslo Police stated that such actions were legal. An earlier assessment by the Police University found the actions to be questionable since health personnel must conduct all bodily searches. The police launched an internal investigation and banned the use of the baton for mouth searches.”
I hope Singapore moves toward some…positive reform with its human rights situation in future.
After all, the National Pledge states that progress for the nation is a goal, and that should not mean economic progress at the expense of social progress.
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(1) Document – Singapore rejects calls to end death penalty and caning (Amnesty; 2011)
(2) Singapore’s Violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (ThatBoyHuman; 2014)
(3) Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations)
(4) UN Declaration on the Right to Development (United Nations)
(5) Human Rights (Wikipedia)
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UPDATE (9 March 2015): Singapore (still) rejects criticism that caning is ‘torture’ (Yahoo!)