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Vietnam: Time To Abolish Capital Punishment? By Carlyle A. Thayer

C3S Paper No. 0007 / 2015

We are preparing a report about whether or not Vietnam should abolish the death penalty. We request your input for the following three issues:

1.Given that given wrongful convictions appear to be prevalent in Vietnam (,  is it time for the government to rethink whether the death penalty actually deters crime?

ANSWER: One of the strongest arguments for abolishing the death penalty is that the state cannot correct a wrongful conviction leading to execution or make restitution to the innocent victim. Besides, there is convincing evidence that the death penalty does not serve to deter would be offenders. A report by Roger Hood, commissioned by the United Nations and updated in 2002, concluded: “it is not prudent to accept the hypothesis that capital punishment deters murder to a marginally greater extent than does the threat and application of the supposedly lesser punishment of life imprisonment.” There is evidence that the abolishment of the death penalty in various countries has not led to an increase in offenses for which the death penalty was previously imposed. Conversely, there is no convincing evidence that the use of the death penalty to deter murder, violent crime, rape, drug trafficking etc. has been more successful than lengthy incarceration or even a life sentence. As of June 2013, the vast majority of states have either abolished the death penalty (97 states) or placed a moratorium on state executions over the last ten years (30 states). Fifty-eight states continue to impose the death penalty. In reality, four countries account for over ninety-five percent of state executions worldwide: China, Iran, Vietnam and the United States. China alone accounts for 90 percent of global executions.

2. What are the most pertinent statistics on the death penalty in Vietnam? What do you make of such statistics? ANSWER: There are no authoritative statistics in the public domain on the number of death sentences carried out in Vietnam because since January 2006 these figures have been declared a state secret. The statistics are often contradictory and most analysts consider them to be the minimum number. The most authoritative source is Amnesty International’s annual report on Death Sentences and Executions (see Tablebelow and

The Vietnamese media sometimes carries an individual report on an execution such as Nguyen Anh Tuan in August 2013. But the Vietnamese media does not report aggregate figures.

3. Is it fair to say that while the death penalties have been handed down mostly to drug traffickers and murderers in Vietnam, such crimes have shown no sign of letup? What is the root cause of those problems and what needs to be done in lieu of the death penalty to address them?

ANSWER: Most of the death sentences carried out in Vietnam have been for drugrelated offenses and also murder. The death penalty is not an effective deterrent in the case of the former because of the lucrative nature of trafficking in drugs. There is much profit to be gained and the heads of cartels or drug kingpins are rarely arrested. The drug trade is also oppressive and many of those involved are subject to threats of physical violence if they do not assist in trafficking. Such victims fear violence by drug lords more than the state. The demand for drugs is also a driver. Executing drug traffickers does not reduce market demand. There are many causes for murder such as family violence and armed robbery. The hoped for deterrent effect of the death penalty does not address the psychological factors involved in family violence. Criminals who murder do so for profit and believe the risk is worth taking because they feel they won’t be caught. Eliminating the use of illicit drugs is a complex matter. There are three strategies that should be used in tandem: eliminating the source of the drugs, reducing the demand for drugs, and legalizing certain drugs and providing them to individuals on a controlled basis. In addition, each state should continuously conduct an anti-drug campaign, especially among school children and youths.

Table 1 Estimates of the Number of State Executions Carried Out in Vietnam, 2004-2014

Year   No of Executions                                                                        Source   

2004             64                            Amnesty International, “Facts and figures on the death penalty,” April 2005,                                                                 

2004             70                            International Federation for Human Rights, “The Death Penalty in the Socialist                                                                     Republic of Vietnam,” October 9,2008.

2006            100                          Thanh Nien, February 3, 2006 reported that “around 100 people are executed by                                                                   firing squad each year.”

2007              25                           Amnesty International, Death Sentences and Executions in 2007, April 15, 2008, 50.

2007            104                           Carlyle A. Thayer, “Vietnam: Death By Lethal Injection Still a State Secret,”Thayer                                                                 Consultancy Background Brief, June 2, 2012 citing Vietnamese media reports.

2008              19                            Amnesty International, Death Sentences and Executions in 2008, March 24, 2009, 8.

2008             28                             Carlyle A. Thayer, “Vietnam: Death By Lethal Injection Still a State Secret,”Thayer                                                                Consultancy Background Brief, June 2, 2012 citing Vietnamese media reports up to                                                              November 2008.

2009               9                             Amnesty International, Death Sentences and Executions in 2009, March 30,2010, 6.

2010               1                              Amnesty International, Death Sentences and Executions in 2010, March 28,2011, 5;                                                             and United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights and                                                                           Democracy:The 2010 Foreign and Commonwealth Office Report, March 2011, 335.

2011               5                               Amnesty International, Death Sentences and Executions in 2011, March 27, 2012, 50.

2012              0                               Amnesty International, Death Sentences and Executions in 2012, April 9, 2013.

2013              7                               Amnesty International, Death Sentences and Executions in 2013, March 26, 2014, 50.  2014             1                                Ha An, “Vietnam Executes High Profile Murderer,” Thanh Nien News, July 23, 2014;                                                           and “Vietnam executes by lethal injection despite protest,” Deutsche Welle, August 6,                                                         2014,                                                                   17000124.

(Article reprinted with the permission of the author Carlyle A. Thayer, Emeritus Professor,The University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra email:

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