Drug Ban Delays Executions

An EU export ban on chemicals used for lethal injection has put Vietnam in a quandary.

File photo shows ex-police officer Vu Xuan Truong weeping after an appeal court upheld his death sentence over a serious drug trafficking offense. He was publicly executed March 3, 1997.

Vietnam is unable to execute hundreds of prisoners languishing on death row because the European Union does not want to sell the country lethal-injection drugs, according to newspapers in the one-party communist state.

The EU embargo has caused a jump in the number of death row criminals awaiting execution to nearly 450, prompting some Vietnamese lawmakers to suggest that the country return to using the firing squad as a form of capital punishment.

A law ending Vietnam's traditional method of execution by firing squad and allowing the use of lethal injection became effective in July last year.

But the EU, all of whose 27 states have banned the death penalty, imposed strict controls in December on the export of drugs used to carry out lethal injections.

“The drugs for a lethal injection must be imported through the EU, but the organization is demanding that Vietnam abolish the death penalty,” Huynh Ngoc Son, the deputy chairman of the National Assembly, Vietnam's parliament, was quoted saying by the ruling Communist Party-controlled Tuoi Tre newspaper.

"I have proposed that if the new execution method cannot be carried out, then the law be amended so that execution by firing squad can be applied again, but the government has not agreed to this,” Son said, according to the paper which reported a debate on the issue in parliament last week.

Law agencies reported that "nearly 450 defendants have yet to be executed by the new method due to the lack of material," Tuoi Tre said.

In the meantime, some prisoners have asked for swift executions, and others have died from diseases, another state controlled newspaper Thanh Nien said.

Prisons are also facing certain difficulties in managing the inmates, it said, citing the latest report from judicial agencies.

Law amendment proposal

Dinh Xuan Thao, a Hanoi lawmaker, called for an amendment to the law to allow for both execution methods—firing squad and lethal injection, according to the the Dan Tri newspaper.

But Thao said that Vietnam should also consider revising laws to reduce death penalty sentences as much as possible.

Nguyen Minh Hong, Director of the Center for Research and Application of Medical Breakthroughs, said it is not difficult for Vietnam to produce the lethal-injection drugs but that there have been no directives to this effect from the government.

It was reported that the police department has built 10 centers and trained hundreds of officials to implement lethal injection executions.

Vietnam is one of several countries in Asia where the death penalty remains in force. Before the switch to lethal injections, the country had been executing around 100 condemned prisoners a year by firing squad, reports have said.

The authorities had said that the switch was aimed at "reducing physical pain for the condemned and also to provide psychological relief to executioners."

The Vietnamese police ministry first suggested an end to the firing squad in early 2006, saying it had led to mental disorder in the case of one member of a firing squad while many others had quit the service, Reuters news agency reported,

Lethal injection is also the principal method used in the United States to carry out the death penalty.

The U.S., which executed 43 prisoners in 2011, is the only Western democracy that executes prisoners, even as an increasing number of U.S. states are moving to abolish the death penalty, rights group Amnesty International says.

In China, thousands of people were executed in 2011, more than the rest of the world put together, according to Amnesty International. Figures on the death penalty are a state secret in the country.

Reported by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.


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