U.N. official urges Singapore not to execute Australian drug trafficker

A United Nations human rights expert urged the Singapore government not to hang a convicted Australian heroin trafficker, saying the execution violated international legal standards.

Singapore has turned down clemency requests from Australia and the Roman Catholic Church for Nguyen Tuong Van, who received a mandatory death sentence after being caught with 396 grams (14 ounces) of heroin at the city-state's Changi Airport in 2002.

Singapore's government says the death penalty is a deterrent against serious crimes such as murder and firearm use, and that it helps keep crime and drug abuse rates low.

Philip Alston, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions for the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, said the city-state's use of a mandatory death sentence for certain drug trafficking convictions was inappropriate.

"Making such a penalty mandatory _ thereby eliminating the discretion of the court _ makes it impossible to take into account mitigating or extenuating circumstances and eliminates any individual determination of an appropriate sentence in a particular case," Alston said in a statement dated Tuesday.

"The adoption of such a black and white approach is entirely inappropriate where the life of the accused is at stake," Alston said. "Once the sentence has been carried out it is irreversible."

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Tuesday he met his Singaporean counterpart, George Yeo, on the sidelines of ministerial meetings of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Busan, South Korea. Downer said he urged Singapore to reconsider the planned execution, but was told the decision was irreversible.

Nguyen, an ethnic Vietnamese, is expected to go to the gallows within a month.

Singaporean lawyer M. Ravi, who has campaigned to save Nguyen's life, said last week he had lodged a complaint with Alston against the Singapore government in a bid to halt the execution, AP reported. V.A.

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Author`s name: Editorial Team