Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Dateline: Vietnam


The highlights:

Vietnam firm on death penalty

Vietnam has achieved a dubious distinction by sentencing 100 people to death this year.

Two death penalties handed down to drug traffickers on Monday got the country to the 100 mark.

Apart from the sentences, Vietnam has also executed 62 people by the firing squad this year. Most of these have been for murder and drug trafficking.

Human rights groups have been urging the communist nation for several years to abolish the death penalty, but Vietnam has shown no signs of going slow on executions.

"This is a very effective measure," Le The Tiem, deputy minister of public security said in September of the death penalty.

"Once drug-related crimes are eradicated, we might consider changing our policy with lesser penalties."

Apart from murder and drug trafficking, Vietnam has also started handing down the death penalty in graft cases, in an attempt to curb increasing corruption in public life.

"Routinely unfair trials in Vietnam mean that the death penalty is imposed under conditions which may lead to irreversible miscarriages of justice," Amnesty International said in August.

Such concerns, however, appear to trouble few people in the country.

"Much of the debate appears to have been over the method used to carry out executions, not over whether they should be happening at all," Human Rights Watch said.

Replacing firing squads

In 1999 Prime Minister Phan Van Khai wanted the firing squad to be replaced by lethal injection, but no action was ultimately taken.

Executions are carried out at special sites at dawn. The victim is blindfolded and tied to a stake.

Spectators are welcome to attend, but the victim's family is rarely informed. They are ordered to come and recover personal belongings, two or three days later.

The body of the executed is only made available to their families for formal funerals three years later.